ARCHIVED - New network -- better buildings

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October 07, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

Canadians spend about 90 percent of their time inside homes, offices, factories, commercial establishments and other buildings. So research on indoor environments affects everyone.

NRC has initiated a national network to link researchers involved in building and health-related disciplines. The new Canadian Building and Health Sciences Network will improve the health of Canadians by bringing together health scientists and building scientists to collaborate on improving the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment.

"Through this network, researchers will share knowledge, develop research priorities, and form alliances to conduct focused research on specific health problems," says Dr. Jennifer Veitch, the network coordinator and a senior research officer at the NRC Institute for Research in Construction. "This new community of researchers will support public policy, codes, standards and guidelines by providing sound scientific knowledge. For example, we may help to formulate checklists for healthful buildings," she suggests.

Dr. Jennifer Veitch uses a luminance meter to measure light exposure. Recent research suggests that people may benefit from more light each day than they usually receive.
Dr. Jennifer Veitch uses a luminance meter to measure light exposure. Recent research suggests that people may benefit from more light each day than they usually receive.

To kickstart network activities, NRC will host an expert symposium next spring – the first formal face-to-face meeting of Canadian experts from relevant scientific and technical fields. These include medicine, occupational health, epidemiology, physiology, toxicology, chemistry, psychology, public health, architecture and all engineering disciplines.

"The indoor environment may be one of the most fertile research areas in which to seek improvements to our overall health and well-being," comments Dr. Veitch. "Chemical and physical pollution of indoor air, mould growth, noise and inadequate lighting may all diminish our well-being and contribute to disease."

The idea for a new research network arose because focus groups of industry stakeholders said they wanted more information about the health consequences of different kinds of building conditions. According to Dr. Veitch, NRC decided to build this network because "we have a unique ability to be collaborative and we recognized our own limitations."

"Our Indoor Environment Program is a relatively small unit with approximately 15 research officers, so unless we work together, we're not going to be able to solve all the possible problems," she says. So far, her team has started to build relationships with key federal partners such as Health Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

In terms of potential research priorities, "there are a number of areas we could focus on," says Dr. Veitch. "Many people are familiar with issues related to indoor air quality – for example, are there building materials emissions that have bad consequences for health? What are the consequences of elevated levels of particulates of various sizes?"

"It's also important to recognize that there is much more to our physical environment than air," she adds. "For example, we need to pay more attention to the kind of lighting conditions that people experience, both during the day and at night, because there is a growing body of science that has identified previously unknown effects."

In addition, there are potential questions about the health consequences of noise exposure in buildings – especially transportation noise from airplanes and other vehicles. "In Canada, a lot of attention has been paid in industrial settings to limit noise exposure, but we have paid relatively little attention to non-industrial settings," stresses Dr. Veitch.

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