Healthy Buildings Research: New Developments, Future Directions and Potential Solutions

Charles J. Weschler

This talk, one researcher’s subjective evaluation, will address selected advances from the mix of sciences that inform the design and operation of healthy buildings. 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; still more studies suggesting that certain indoor pollutants can function as endocrine disruptors; new evidence that the common cold is at least partially transmitted via air; the finding that indoor exposures to pollutants of outdoor origin (ozone and PM2.5) partially explains the mortality ascribed to these pollutants; further characterization of indoor sources of particles in different size-ranges; and 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”. Relatedly, EPA’s TOXCAST, coupled with the EU’s REACH, promise to improve our knowledge of the toxicity of chemicals used, or about to be introduced in, commerce. We can anticipate further reduction of noxious chemical and particulate emissions from office equipment in developed regions and from cookstoves in developing regions. Additives such as plasticizers, flame retardants and antioxidants will be less “migratory” and often bound to the matrix which contains them. Better sensors will be developed to alert us to harmful chemicals within buildings. More efficient filtration and catalytic degradation will facilitate the removal of certain indoor pollutants. Such developments should promote progress towards the integrated triad of energy efficient, sustainable and healthy buildings.