Interesting long read on Healthy Building efforts by @Google

Got pointed to a very interesting long read story by Erica Hartmann on Twitter:

The story is by Diana Budds at the FastCoDesign. It is definitely worth a look.

Our buildings can make us sick. In Google, the movement for healthy architecture may have gotten its most powerful ally yet.

Source: Google’s Plan To Make Our Buildings Less Poisonous | Co.Design | business + design

Worth a read: Contributions of pioneering women in indoor environment and health

Worth checking this out I think.

Source: Contributions of pioneering women in indoor environment and health – Nazaroff – 2016 – Indoor Air – Wiley Online Library

From the introduction:

On occasion, this journal has recounted historical achievements in the indoor air sciences. Sundell[1] provided a broad-ranging overview. I have written about the history of the ISIAQ and its Academy of Fellows,[2] and about Max von Pettenkofer, for whom the Academy’s highest award is named.[3] Notably, absent in these histories is any explicit discussion of the contribution of women.

These circumstances conform to a broader pattern. In fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, there has been a lesser representation in leadership by women than their overall participation. In the indoor air community, one observes a moderately high proportion of women participants in conferences and as authors of published research. However, women only comprise 10% of Academy membership. For this journal, similar proportions apply: women hold 2 of the 13 editor positions and comprise five of the 30 editorial board members. Considering scientific awards in the indoor air sciences, three of eight recipients of the early career Yaglou Award are women; however, none of the first seven Pettenkofer award winners is a woman.

Many of the underlying causes for these disparities are structural; however, I do not propose to debate that matter here. Rather, a brief account is presented of some historical contributions of women to the field of indoor environment and health. The examples are all drawn from the United States, in part, because I decided not to highlight some more famous contributors, such as Florence Nightingale. The geographic focus also reflects my limitations with any language other than English, constraining my ability to access historical documents from other countries. With those caveats, and with the following sketches presented in chronological order, let’s proceed.

Report: Laminate wood flooring risk was underestimated by CDC

There is a new report out Tuesday from the CDC National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).  It is an update of a report issued on February 10, 2016.  Alex Alexiev wrote about this error in a microBEnet post: CDC Error in Flooring Report. For more on the corrected report see:

Some key parts of the CDC statement:

On February 12, CDC/ATSDR was notified that a private individual who reviewed the report suspected that a conversion error might have been made. CDC/ATSDR staff reviewed the report and discovered that an incorrect value for ceiling height was used in the indoor air model. As a result, the health risks were calculated using airborne concentration estimates about 3 times lower than they should have been. Neither CDC/ATSDR nor the report’s peer or partner reviewers or reviewers noticed the error.

It seems like they are trying to say “it is not really our fault – our peer and partner reviewers missed this too.” I am not so impressed with this.  No apology.  No comment about how this was missed.  Better than not correcting the error, certainly, but close to a “sorry – not sorry” kind of statement.

This lack of any apology is a bit troubling since they do in fact conclude that this new value leads to new conclusions in regard to short term health and long term health.

They do state that “our recommendations remain the same” in regard to the flooring and specifically:

we continue to recommend that people with the affected laminate flooring:

  • Reduce exposure –  We provide information on how residents can reduce exposure to sources of formaldehyde in their homes

  • See a doctor for ongoing health symptoms — We recommend that residents who have followed the steps to reduce formaldehyde in their homes and still have ongoing health symptoms (breathing problems or irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat) only in their homes, should see a doctor to find out what is causing the symptoms.

  • Consider professional air testing if irritation continues.

They then go on to say a bit about what they did both to make sure the new revised report is accurate:

To ensure the accuracy of the revised report, CDC/ATSDR spent five weeks taking these steps:

  • Updating  the model parameters and re-running the indoor air model

  • Double-checking the model against other air models

  • Conducting a quality review of the revised results

  • Re-evaluating the possible health implications

  • Requesting peer review of the revised report by outside experts and experts from CPSC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Addressing these peer reviewers’ comments

  • Revising communication materials to ensure affected people understand the new results.

It would be nice to know a bit more about these steps.  It would also be useful to know a bit more about why everyone involved missed the mistake earlier and how the mistake was made in the first place.  But … I guess this is good that they corrected the mistake relatively quickly and that they listened to this “private individual” (though I am not quite sure what that description means). 

Extremophily on solar panels

Adding to the list of common surfaces in the built environment that are harboring unique microbial communities — solar panels!  If you build a smooth surface exposed to the sun, will they come, like poolside sunbathers vying for the best lounge chairs?  A study by Pedro Dorado-Morales and crew came at this question from multiple sides: they pulled off samples at the same time of day for 16S/18S rRNA identification, cultured isolated strains to subject them to various stress tests, and ran shotgun metagenomic and proteomic sequencing to get a functional profile.

Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a CSU Long Beach building - possibly bringing the extreme to the otherwise mild SoCal. Image from
Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a CSU Long Beach building – possibly bringing the extreme to the otherwise mild SoCal. Image from

The functional profile revealed that protein composition not only varied between night and day but included a high amount of proteins suspected to play important roles in biofilm formation and resistance to harsh conditions.  When compared to a more expansive range of habitats, it clustered with environmental habitats like polar microbial mats and saline deserts.  This is important in distinguishing that these microbes are not merely depositional leftovers, but an active community surviving on the solar panels. The stress tests ran on the isolated strains supported this by showing resistance to high salt concentrations, though they showed relatively low resistance to UV light and heat shock. This might be something interesting to follow up on regarding colonization of these surfaces — perhaps those more easily cultured are not entirely representative of the key players that allow a community to survive here.  The species identified in the rRNA on the solar panels, a diverse array of around 500 in each sample, also consistently showed high abundance of organisms previously associated with harsh conditions, including the posterchild, Deinococcus.

All in all, I’m interested to see the extent to which these extremophiles occupy environments we walk by every day. If they can survive on the vertical, as well, can you imagine all the relatively young surface area in our cities that endures harsh conditions like these solar panels?

To the window, to the wall!  New York City skyline, or extremophile central? Image from
To the window, to the wall! New York City skyline, or extremophile central? Image from

Nominations sought for NAS Committee on Microbiomes of the Built Environment

Just got sent this by Katherine Bowman from the Board on Life Sciences.  This is really important and if you know of someone who would be good please consider nominating them.Screenshot 2015-10-02 15.04.59



Request for Committee Nominations — Microbiomes of the Built Environment: From Research to Application

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are embarking on a new consensus study, “Microbiomes of the Built Environment: From Research to Application.” Much remains unknown about the development and evolution of microbial communities in indoor spaces such as homes and workplaces, how these microbial communities are affected by environmental conditions, and how they affect a building and its inhabitants. The study will assess the current base of knowledge on the microbiome/built environment interface and identify key research gaps that need to be addressed to enable emerging microbial knowledge to be applied in ways that positively impact building and infrastructure design and human health.

Humans spend roughly 90 percent of each day indoors in environments built for shelter and environmental control. Research has shown that within these environments there exist a vast number and diversity of species of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa in the air, water, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, and on surfaces. These constitute dynamic microbial communities or microbiomes. The nature, composition, diversity, evolution, and growth of these microbiomes are influenced by interactions with humans, animals, and plants, and by factors such as air flow, temperature, humidity, chemical exposures, and building materials. These factors are, in turn, shaped by the design, construction, operation, occupation, and use of the built environments.

The ~20-month study will serve as a guide to key issues and questions in the field. It will identify scientific, technical, engineering, and health-related knowledge gaps and map out basic and applied research agendas and priorities to guide actionable knowledge to improve the microbiome/built environment interface.

Expertise Needed

Nominations are sought for approximately 15 experts to serve on the study committee in areas such as microbial genetics and ecology, environmental science, data and computational sciences, materials science, engineering, architecture and building sciences, indoor air quality, and public health. Because of the cross-cutting nature of the topic, the committee will include multiple perspectives from the life and physical sciences, engineering, and health communities.

To make a nomination, kindly send the person’s name, affiliation, contact information, and a brief statement on why he or she is relevant to the study topic. Nominations can be made directly through the project website at Nominations are requested by October 15

Thank you for helping us ensure that the most well qualified and diverse committee is appointed to undertake this task. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at kbowman@nas.edu202-334-2638 or through our study email,


Invasion of the Built Environment by a Microbiologist 

Screenshot 2015-09-30 11.45.38So – I thought some people here would be interested in this.  As someone who has been involved in the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program in “Microbiology of the Built Environment” for many years, I have been trying to get more involved with the built environment crowd.  And I have not always been exceptionally successful at this. But I keep trying.  I have been inspired by much of the work in this Sloan Foundation program that crossing over disciplinary boundaries is really important for this whole field.  Thus we keep up such efforts at microBEnet and I am always looking for new ways to cross over.  Again, I confess, I have not always been successful at this.

But I am pleased to announce that I am Co-PI on a new project at UC Davis. NSF Award Search: Award#1545193 – NRT-IGE: Data Science for the Built Environment.  This is a grant as part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Traineeship (NRT) program on Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE).  And the focus on this project is on training PhD students who are focusing on built environment work in data sciences.  And I am very happy that the other people on the grant (PI Deb Niemeier, CoPIs Duncan Lang, Megan Welsh and Nina Amenta) asked me if I would like to be involved.  The summary from the grant is below:

NRT-IGE: Data Science for the Built Environment

The availability of voluminous, high resolution data in both the spatial and temporal dimensions, coupled with increasingly fast, distributed computational resources offers enormous opportunities for tackling complex engineering and science challenges in urban settings. These data can also play an important role in interdisciplinary problem solving and have increasingly high value to multiple communities of scientists and engineers. However, research in the optimal instruction mechanisms to develop data science skills is still emerging. This is particularly true for engineering graduate students, who are a highly selected, technologically sophisticated population with the ability to quickly master material. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award in the Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) Track to the University of California-Davis will pilot, test, and compare modes of data science instruction. The testbed project will provide critical new information to inform the development of new learning platforms designed to cultivate robust computational, statistical, and data reasoning skills in engineering graduate students.

The project will implement a hybrid short-course approach that 1) bridges existing code camps and semester long classes, and 2) is coupled with a formal user group experience. A robust evaluation will be conducted to identify the individual effects of code camps, short courses, and users groups, as well as the effect of participating in combinations of experiences. In addition, learning gains, self-efficacy to engage in interdisciplinary studies that require data science principles, and career trajectories (including decisions to take additional coursework in data science and decisions to pursue interdisciplinary research and employment involving data science) will be examined. The project will generate new knowledge that addresses a particularly important gap in knowledge in terms of whether intense short-term learning experiences result in longer-term retention of skill development and computational reasoning. Findings on effectiveness of different modes of data science instruction in engineering will be broadly applicable to all data-enabled science and engineering fields.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training. The Innovations in Graduate Education Track is dedicated solely to piloting, testing, and evaluating novel, innovative, and potentially transformative approaches to graduate education.

Basically I am going to be the outlier.  The only person not in the College of Engineering on the project and the only biologist.  I am hoping to bring in some biology focused people into the training program and also to try to better link studies of the built environment, training for Engineering PhD students, and microbiology.  Stay tuned for more about this project.

An important read on “the future for women in the built environment and land”

Amanda Clack, RICS President Elect tells Womanthology why diversity is a strategy and a source of competitive advantage, not an issue

Just got done reading this: Surveying the future for women in the built environment and land: Diversity is a strategy and a source of competitive advantage, not an issue – Amanda Clack, RICS President Elect – Womanthology

Amanda Clack is the president elect of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

The topics discussed include

  • The importance of diverse talent
  • Redressing the gender balance
  • Diversity as an advantage
  • Engaging women and girls

This article has many great examples of how “Diversity is a strategy and a source of competitive advantage, not an issue” and I think it definitely worth reading.

The article is from Womanthology a “digital magazine and community for working women.” I just signed up for their newsletter and their Twitter feed.

Microbiome informed design – air quality, avoiding filtering, and lichens


This is one of those stories / articles / posts that simultaneously fascinates me and freaks me out a bit and for which I fluctuate wildly between those two points of view:

bioME – RSA Human By Nature Entry on Behance By Candice de Aguiar

Her basic design idea here is to allow for more microbial diversity in indoor air via a custimaizable system to have terrariums inside a filtration bubble basically (I think).  With lichens providing some of the air filtration.


Why did I seek to put GreenBIM into Room 101?

This content has been reposted by the PressForward plugin. Click here to access martin brown's original post.

Why did I seek to put Green BIM into Room 101 ? Did I not tweet only this week that Green BIM is one of the more important developments in the built environment?

greenBIM 101

The label, or hashtag for GreenBIM is so riddled with issues, I was only able to skim during the 2 mins allowed in the ThinkBIM / Green Vision Room 101 session, and in fact is pre-occupying a lot of thought and space in my forthcoming RIBA book.

However, in 5 bullet points … here goes.

  • BIM (and digital construction) is the most powerful of improvement and collaborative programmes for decades, if not in the history of construction — all BIM should be green — all BIM should be pushing the boundaries doing more good, not happy just to maintain a business as usual, a sustainability status quo or be incrementally less bad.
  • Every BIM is a core enabler in achieving Construction Vision 2025 tough sustainability and carbon targets — requiring net positive approaches. Construction 2025 is not just for GreenBIM’s.
  • One of the fast emerging sectors within the world of sustainability, with a predicted market value in the billions, is the circular economy — every BIM, not just GreenBIM’s should be addressing this concept. In particular, where one building becomes the food, the material farm, for the next building. Am I in danger of creating a new hashtag and meme here: #CEBIM _ Circular Economy BIM anyone?
  • Looking through (BIM) product data sheets we see products and chemicals that are scientifically proven carcinogenic — the formaldehydes, the PVC’s the styrenes — all BIM’s should address these issues on health and wellbeing grounds, not just green BIM. It is estimated to take 8 hours per material on RedList transparency to determine exact ingredients — and ensure no realist profited materials, at present this doesn’t make the material or product specification through BIM a viable option for LBC, well building standard or indeed LEED4 where the RedList thinking is applied
  • Green Vision has embraced Living Building Challenge — where for accredited projects like the Bullit Centre there are no energy performance gaps — this is what a BIM should achieve on every building, green or not, and fast. Lets seek a net-positive performance gap. This is Construction Vision 2025!

Conclusion: My reason for putting GreenBIM into 101 is out of frustration than annoyance. We would all agree that all BIM’s should be green BIMs, so do we need another label, perhaps, perhaps not, but what we do need to do is to take the agenda from ‘GreenBIM’ sessions to all other BIM events, initiates, software, projects, and make every BIM Green.

I also blogged on this very issue back in 2013 — Do we really need ‘Green BIM’?

It was encouraging to see the Circular Economy feature in a number of presentations at the Green BIM event. For more on circular economy and BIM see my take here: RegenerativeBIM … moving the GreenBIM debate

And, by coincidence or serendipity, I had presented to and participated within a panel debate at Runshaw College on Circular Economy the day before:

Source: Why did I seek to put GreenBIM into Room 101?

Call for Abstracts: Indoor Air 2016 @IA2016 in Ghent 

Source: Indoor air 2016 

Indoor Air: The flagship meeting of ISIAQ (the International Society for Indoor Air Quality and Climate) will be held in Ghent, Belgium July 3-8 in 2016.  The meeting has a Call for Abstracts in the broad area of Indoor Air sciences that is now open.  The meeting series is great and I encourage anymore who works on Indoor Air or related topics (e.g., built environment microbiomes) to consider applying.

On their web site they list potential topics (not an exhaustive list but examples):

  • Fundamentals:Indoor air chemistry, Indoor air physics, Indoor air microbiology, sources, transport and aerodynamics, sinks, epidemiology, perceived air quality, thermal comfort, acoustics and lighting, public health and exposure studies

  • Healthy and sustainable buildings:Building ventilation, healthy homes, energy efficient buildings, renovations, refurbishment, environmental impact of buildings, low-energy buildings, impact of outdoor air

  • Abatement and exposure reduction:Source reduction, air purification, filtration and air cleaning, absorbing materials, regulations, standards and policy

  • (Re)Emerging issues in indoor air sciences:Respiratory infections, new chemical substances, nanoparticles in indoor air, transport cabin environments, olfactory assessment

  • Innovative solutions in practice:Field studies, new sampling and technology applications, new materials, prediction and measurement

  • New technologies and applications:Smart houses, smart technologies, wireless sensors, bio-monitoring for indoor applications

  • Developing countries:IEQ and solutions, IEQ in rapidly urbanizing cities

  • Communication, Standards & Codes:Education, sensitization, prevention and communication, community engagement

They even write:

Follow us and spice up the conference with your suggestions on twitter through @IA2016.

I suggest everyone do so …