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Study in Quebec to examine indoor air quality

In most buildings, the quality of the air we breathe depends on mechanical systems that are designed to ventilate and dilute pollutants in accordance with established engineering principles. Increasingly, concerns are being raised about the effectiveness of these methods to provide acceptable indoor air quality. There are also large gaps in our knowledge about the correlation between indoor air quality and the health of occupants.

In a bid to address these important issues on behalf of all Canadians, National Research Council-Institute for Research in Construction has taken the lead in a comprehensive initiative that will begin to fill the gaps in our knowledge, tap into the collective wisdom of people in the health and building community, and pave the way for reliable and effective best practices and evaluation protocols for air quality-related devices. The NRC-IRC Indoor Air Initiative, part of the federal government’s Clean Air Agenda for both outdoor and indoor air, takes a multi-faceted approach to the issue of indoor air quality, combining research, technology assessment and a national forum for discussion and dissemination of information. The Clean Air Agenda initiatives to address the issue of indoor air were developed in collaboration with Health Canada.

The initiative is being launched with a uniquely designed field study that will be carried out in about 100 homes occupied by families with asthmatic children in the Quebec City area. Partnering with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and other federal partners, NRC-IRC researchers will assess the physical characteristics of the homes and the quality of their indoor air, while medical professionals from INSPQ will assess the health of the children. Over a three-year period following the initial assessment, modifications will be made to the ventilation and air-distribution systems in the homes to improve indoor air quality, and a follow-up assessment will be conducted to measure and evaluate whether there have been any changes in the indoor air quality or the health of the children. It is expected that the results from this study will improve our understanding of the impact of ventilation and air distribution on indoor air quality.

Meanwhile, to optimize the design of modifications to the homes, the impact of different technologies will be simulated and tested in a new indoor air research facility, which is currently being commissioned on the NRC campus in Ottawa.

The indoor air research facility will also be used, in conjunction with existing capabilities at NRC-IRC, to develop performance evaluation protocols to test and assess the effectiveness of technologies aimed at improving air quality. The project will generate reliable information that builders, building operators and homeowners can use to select technologies such as residential HRV (heat recovery ventilation) systems, single-room particle filtration units and commercial HVAC-mounted air modification systems. This is a significant part of the initiative because it will provide the foundation for a system that could eventually be used to label and rate the various technologies.

The initiative will also tackle the difficult task of sifting through available and newly generated information to identify knowledge gaps, recommend studies and disseminate information. This will be achieved through the creation of an independent national committee on indoor air quality as it relates to the design and operation of buildings and building systems. The committee is expected to include broad representation from major stakeholders – governments, industry and consumers – to discuss issues related to indoor air and provide reliable and unbiased information on solutions and technologies that affect indoor air quality in buildings, based on the best available collective knowledge. The Indoor Air Initiative currently has a three-year horizon to put a framework in place that NRC-IRC can build upon to further improve knowledge and, in the long term, contribute to the health of Canadians.

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