ARCHIVED - Toward healthier indoor air

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December 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Canadians spend most of their time indoors — at home, at the office, inside schools, shopping malls and other enclosed spaces. In most buildings, the quality of the air we breathe depends on mechanical ventilation systems that dilute pollutants.

However, no one knows precisely how much of a difference these systems make. Because of growing concern about the health effects of indoor air quality, researchers want to know how indoor air affects health and well-being, and how exactly to define "acceptable" air. "For example, no one knows what the ideal ventilation rate should be," says Dr. Hans Schleibinger of the NRC Institute for Research in Construction (NRC-IRC). "We just assume that a better ventilated home will provide a healthier indoor environment."

NRC's new Indoor Air Research Laboratory, featuring dampers (inset) that permit variable ventilation rates.
NRC's new Indoor Air Research Laboratory, featuring dampers (inset) that permit variable ventilation rates.

To address these issues, NRC is undertaking a comprehensive initiative that will begin to fill the gaps in our knowledge. Tapping into the collective wisdom of people in the health and building community, this initiative will pave the way for best practices and evaluation protocols for air quality-related devices. Part of the Government of Canada's Clean Air Agenda, the NRC Indoor Air Initiative will combine research, technology assessment and a national forum for discussion and dissemination of information. "Under this initiative, federal partners such as Health Canada and NRC will work closely with other key organizations on a broad range of indoor air issues," says Dr. Schleibinger.

The NRC Indoor Air Initiative will start with a unique field study involving about 100 Québec City homes occupied by families with asthmatic children. Working with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and federal partners, NRC researchers will assess the physical characteristics of the homes and the quality of their indoor air, while medical professionals from INSPQ will assess the children's health.

Over a two-year period, the research team will modify the ventilation systems in these homes and conduct a follow-up assessment to document any changes in the indoor air quality (IAQ) or the children's health.

"We want to see whether increasing the ventilation rate will, in fact, improve the indoor air quality and reduce the children's respiratory symptoms," says Dr. Schleibinger.

The NRC team will simulate modifications to the design of the Québec City homes at a dedicated Indoor Air Research Laboratory in Ottawa. They will also test the impact of different technologies for reducing indoor air contaminants, in order to improve indoor air quality.

"This project will generate reliable information that builders, building operators and homeowners can use to select IAQ technologies, either for residential or commercial use, or as single-room 'air-cleaning' units," says Dr. Schleibinger. "It will provide a sound scientific foundation for a system to assess air improvement technologies."

The NRC Indoor Air Committee is also establishing an independent national committee on indoor air in buildings, with representatives from regulatory, research and industry organizations as well as general interest groups across Canada. Its mandate will be to sift through available and newly generated information to identify knowledge gaps, recommend studies and disseminate scientifically sound information on indoor air quality.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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