Peter Verwer

19 July 2012 – The Healthy Buildings 2012 conference, held in Brisbane on 8-12 July, provoked some lively debate on the status of indoor environment quality within the green building sector.

In one session Property Council chief executive Peter Verwer launched a scathing attack on all parties for not doing enough to push the IEQ envelope.

In his usual provocative style Verwer told facility managers they had to step up to run buildings in a way that put IEQ at the fore, the indoor environment industry that it needed to promote IEQ more effectively and the Green Building Council that it should stop withholding technical information about IEQ and start sharing it.

Adam Garnys, NSW manager with CETEC, said the comments provoked lively discussion.

“Just about everyone got a serve,” Garnys said. “Facility managers were told they need to run buildings in a more technically proficient way to improve the indoor environment quality. The Green Building Council was told it sits on a huge wealth of technical information and is not releasing it because of confidentiality agreements. This information would be very useful if released – case studies could be done to help others achieve better IEQ results.

“And the indoor environment industry got a bashing for not promoting IEQ enough,” Garnys said.

Adam Garnys

“It provoked some healthy discussion.”

Garnys said that more than half of the conference time was spent discussing the importance of IEQ and the need to come up with metrics to measure its impact on building occupants.

One notable factor at the event was the absence of local developers and building owners.

“There was only one local developer and one major property owner – Lend Lease and Investa, while there was a large number of international companies there,” Garnys said.

“I do think developers and owners know IEQ is important but maybe the benefits aren’t flowing through to their customers yet.”

Healthy Buildings 2012 attracted around 650 delegates this year, according to organisers. Vice president of the conference and head of architectural design science at the University of Sydney Richard de Dear told The Fifth Estate that the organising committee had made a strategic decision to hold this year’s conference in Australia.

“Around half of the delegates were from the Asia Pacific region,” de Dear said. “The organisation has a long history and this was the first time it was held in Australia. It was a strategic decision to target this part of the world.

“Most of the construction right now is happening in this part of the world.”

A large contingent of delegates attended from the tropics – Singapore, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, climate zones that had their own set of unique problems when it comes to IEQ.

Richard de Dear, far right, with conference committee

De Dear said the dominance of energy efficiency policies in the green building sector had achieved a great deal but had also brought some negatives with it.

“Energy does continue to dominate a lot of the thinking in green buildings and this is driven by energy policies around the world. There is a striving for energy efficient buildings through building management and technology. But in some ways this is negative. For example, trying to maintain a building at 22 degrees Celsius is becoming increasingly difficult to justify,” says de Dear.

Ventilation rates were also starting to impact on energy efficiency as people become more aware that current minimum levels are not adequate for good health.

“Ten litres per second of fresh air is the minimum allowed here and in other places around the world. There are a lot of issues with that – it can be too low. The challenge is to maintain it at safe levels. All these things will impact on energy efficiency,” de Dear says.

The emergence of IEQ as a dominant issue for green buildings will see much change in the next few years.

Conference highlights
Among keynote speakers at the conference was Peter Newman , Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University.

Newman told delegates the exponential growth in population and consumption of fossil fuels, which has been prevalent since the 1960s, was for the first time showing signs of a slowdown. Peaks and declines, said Newman, indicated that the necessary changes are underway.

“The trends in population, fossil fuel investment, and car use offer considerable hope for the future.”

Newman talked about the critical role of cities and innovation in enabling these changes and the need for continuing growth in green urbanism and promotion of health and wellbeing.

Phillipa Howden-Chapman

Philippa Howden-Chapman, director of the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, Department of Public Health, University of Otago discussed two community randomised trials which looked at the impact of indoor environments in housing.

The Housing, Insulation and Health Study and the Housing, Heating and Health Study, demonstrated the effectiveness of retrofitting insulation and installing effective, non-polluting heaters in improving health.

Howden-Chapman said that a subsequent evaluation of the first 45,000 houses in a national roll-out of the program showed additional benefits in reducing hospitalisations and premature mortality.

“These trials have highlighted that there are significant health gains to be made from improving the indoor environment in existing housing, as well as making significant gains in energy efficiency,” Howden-Chapman said.

Charlie Weschler professor, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, UMDNJ/Robert Wood Johnson Medical School & Rutgers University, gave a fascinating talk on advances in the sciences that influence healthy buildings.

These advances include the increasing use of biomarkers to identify chemical exposures, coupled with analyses indicating that indoor exposures account for a large fraction of the man-made chemicals found in our bodies; the use of gene sequence analysis to trace sources contributing to indoor particles, dust and surface films; studies suggesting that certain indoor pollutants can function as endocrine disruptors and new evidence that the common cold is at least partially transmitted via air.

Professor Weschler also discussed evidence that indoor exposures to pollutants of outdoor origin (ozone and PM2.5) partially explains the mortality from these pollutants. He said there had been progress in assessing the acute and chronic health impacts of pollutants measured in residences.

“These advances presage future directions and solutions to healthy building problems. Better assays for endocrine disrupting chemicals and increased predictive power regarding which chemical additives can mimic hormones are in progress,” Weschler said.

Other key points: (With thanks to The Fifth Estate’s unofficial correspondent Adam Garnys of CETEC)

Volatile Organic Compounds

Secondary emissions are now a concern. Re-emission of VOCs absorbed onto carpet and ceiling tiles occurs long after the new-office odours have gone. Short-term VOC emissions during construction turn into long-term emissions.

A number of mortars and screeds have been shown to emit significant amounts of toxic VOCs following curing, originating from product additives.

Tri-generation and noxious fumes

NOX, nitrogen oxide, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOxfrom Tri-gen plants ends up in indoor air

Ultra-fine particles, less than 100 nanometres

Numerous international papers were presented covering source and behaviour under different indoor conditions. Currently unregulated and much smaller than the regulated PM10 and PM2.5 dust classifications. From outdoor sources such as cars and indoor sources such as laser printers.

Nano-materials

Increasingly added to many new building materials and furniture. New studies on the behaviour of nano-material dust in indoor air under different building operating conditions.

Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCS) ­– some are human endocrine disruptors:

  • Plasticisers  are present in almost all plastics such as Phthalates and BPA, or Bisphenol-A
  • Fire retardants added to building materials, such as PCBs polychlorinated biphenyls https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flame_retardant
  • Concrete adjacent to gap sealants or insulation can “soak” up the fire retardants then release them into the indoor air over time.

Pesticides

SVOCs, or semivolatile organic compounds are very persistent in the indoor environment, staying around for years. Now exposures are correlated with common human diseases.

Secondary organic aerosols, or SOA, formed from oxidation of common VOCs

Many cases covered, for example limonene (lemon extract used in most cleaning products) is broken down by ozone or photo oxidation and has been shown to form other significantly more toxic secondary products.

Microbials

Sneezed saliva particles can now be modelled in detail using CFD.

Most exposure occurs in air, rather than surface contact, showing the importance of adequate ventilation and indoor air filtration.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au