Living in the air we breath
Air quality conference includes Northern issues

Kirsten Larsen
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 27/98) - It is no secret that the air in a building or home can affect the health of its occupants, but energy efficiency and affordable housing is still a priority over air quality with residents in the North.

A phone survey conducted this year by Canadian Mortgage Housing Corp. showed Yellowknife residents were more concerned primarily with housing shortage, affordability and energy efficiency, before air quality.

That may change after the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. hosted it's first air quality information session ever in the NWT.

The government corporation began facilitating workshops and conferences across Canada last year to inform the public and professionals about results of CMHC's seven year air quality research project. The conference held Nov. 24 in Yellowknife attracted building- related professionals from across the North, including representatives from Iqaluit's and Inuvik's NWT Housing Corp. and Hay River's public works department as well as representatives from Yellowknife engineering firms construction businesses, The City of Yellowknife and Arctic Energy Alliance.

Tex McLeod, the conference speaker and independent builder/consultant from Toronto, said CMHC is working to co-ordinate an exchange of knowledge between Northern development professionals and CMHC.

Mcleod said the main concern about air quality in the North is that little research has been done in the North, so people are not familiar with the importance of air quality.

"We don't understand our houses," said McLeod. "The North just thought it had to ventilate to get rid of moisture, but it does not take much ventilation to do that. To keep people healthy you have to ventilate more, so then it's dry. Well, guess what, you have to ventilate and humidify."

It is important to maintain a certain level of moisture in the home, but it can be difficult in climates such as the North with the snow and the changing temperature.

"Because of cold temperatures, there are dampness problems which can lead to biological problems and mould," said McLeod.

Bringing in outdoor air without regulating the moisture output could cause many problems, not to mention a high heating bill, McLeod said.

"Concern about energy cost means they really don't change the air in the houses," said McLeod.

"That leaves them exposed to indoor pollutants. We need to recognize the need to change the air in houses. You just can't open a window in this temperature, you have to have another way of changing the air with air exchanges."

Air quality doesn't come cheap in the North, though.

"It costs to buy and operate (air exchangers), but we need to see fresh air as a necessary part of life," said McLeod. "Northerners spend a lot of indoor time in the winter."

People live in the air they create in their homes with cleaning products, fumes from appliances, chemicals of all kinds that are stored inside which would normally be left in a garage. Dust mites and dead skin cells collect in the home, too, which can effect asthmatics and even cause asthma.

The most important thing for Northerners is that as they become aware of air quality issues and that they pass the knowledge on.