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Sandra Bernal at the Healthy Buildings America 2015 Conference

Submitted on September 21, 2015

Conference:         Healthy Buildings America 2015

Venue:                 Colorado University in Boulder, July 19-22

Organizer:           International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate


I want to start with my sincere thanks to the Carter Award committee and the GIDP for the support. My participation in this conference was important, not only for my doctorate studies, but also for my personal development in two ways: as attendee (1) and as presenter (2).

  1. The conference was integrated by 14 workshops, 7 plenaries, 68 podium presentations and 2 poster sessions with 45+ research posters. The topic of the conference was “Innovation in a Time of Energy Uncertainty and Climate Adaptation” therefore the most common individual topics were in the fields of ventilation, indoor environmental quality, climate change, energy, building processes and materials, and the specifics of microbiome, VOCs and SOCs (volatile and surface organic compounds). One important common definition that I found within the conference attendees and participants was that humans are the first source of indoor pollutants followed by pets and the 3rd position is a combination of outdoor sources, mechanical ventilation (malfunctions, inadequate design or maintenance) and water.

The key issues that the indoor air quality community of researchers found were:

  • The low degree of awareness that the decision makers have during the process of design, construction, occupancy and post-occupancy periods of a building.
  • The feeling of the humankind being a live experiment since the solutions came after the damage is done.   
  • The need of policies to regulate IAQ instead of the current practice of suing the companies for damaging human health (e. g. asbestos)
  • The cost of quality products and the influence of cheap materials to reduce the cost of construction.
  • The need of adaptation to future scenarios (development and climate)
  • The impact of microbes in human health as well as the observed genetic changes in the microbial community crating new challenges for humans.
  • The behavior of people using the building, including cleaning procedures.
  • The need of knowing the state-of-art of the indoor air quality awareness among decision makers.

The most commented strategies during the conference were:

  • Purchase influence in policy changes, meaning to advertise the benefits of better choices to influence the market and obligate to regulate the quality of the products.
  • Look for effective multidisciplinary solutions interacting with planners, architects, engineers, health providers, home owners, etc. (integrating a team with the IAQ specialist)

The take home message as attendee is: A new generation of the built environment will be focused in environmental quality and the success will depend on the multidisciplinary background of the decision makers involved along with their awareness and informed options.

  1. My presentation was the 4th in the second podium session of July 20th. The topic of the session was Ventilation and my presentation Title was “Assessment of the Implications of Natural and Mechanical Ventilation in the Residential Sector.” What I brought to the conference was the results of a preliminary stage of my research that was conducted during an Independent Study with Dr. Nader Chalfoun and reviewed by my chair Dr. Diane Austin.

The outline:

  1. Title “Assessment of the Implications of Natural and Mechanical Ventilation in the Residential Sector.”
  2. Research question: Do ventilation systems provide different indoor air quality exposures at home?
  3. Case of Study: Single family home in midtown Tucson, Arizona.
  4. Results on Natural Ventilation: Cross ventilation and its benefits
  5. Results on Mechanical Ventilation: HVAC and Evaporative Cooling
  6. Sampling: particle sampling in 5 rooms of the house using each ventilation system for a week period with new and old filters.
  7. Conclusions: among of my collusions I added “I just discovered something... but I do not know what is it yet” I use this phrase to highlight the fact that even after proving that the ventilation systems in this particular house have provide different exposures, I still do not know why.
  8. Future research, following up with the previous statement, I commented about the complexity of the problem that IAQ face.
  9. Description of the strategies applied in the House Energy Doctor, CAPLA, UA.
  10. Proposal for my next step: I showed a parallel framework of the Human Health Paradigm (Sexton and Adgate, 1999) where I use the pathway of the particles from the source to the human to show the influence of the elements of the buildings on different exposures. 

After I finished, 3 of the authors of papers that I cited went to meet me and they complimented my work. In general, they said that I hit one important issue by saying that there is a relationship between building design and indoor air quality, and the indoor environments should be responsive to the basic human need of being protected.

I am so pleased to report that the areas that I am using to prepare myself for my degree were also relevant topics during the conference, below is the list of the areas I am studying and the comments I heard in the sessions:

  1. Arid Lands: very important for some presenters because of the environmental conditions and unique characteristics linked with dust, allergens, wildfires, water scarcity and heat.
  2. Global Change: addressed in the first plenary by Chuck Kutscher from the NREL in Golden, Colorado; Also continuously mentioned in many presentations for its importance on responsible practices on energy use and emissions; and adaptation.
  3. Human Health and risk assessment: also mentioned several times since the goal is to have better indoor conditions to protect the people.
  4. Build environment: the role as transition from outdoors, ventilation systems, building materials and characteristics, passive strategies, and so on.
  5. Social scientist approach: applied methods to analyze the state-of art of the decision makers, informed communication tools to create awareness and statistical analyses to bring certainty regarding human behavior.

The challenge now is bigger. This experience was inspiring for me and with it I will complement the next stages for my degree. I feel confident that the same concerns I had are also the concerns of many and that I can contribute with relevant knowledge to this field soon.