Posts By: Phill Snel

Zoe Hoskin

IMG_0257~3

Background

I’m a MASc student in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto, under the joint supervision of Professor Jeffrey Siegel and Professor Sarah Haines. Previously, I graduated from McGill University with an Honours B.A. (Distinction) in Environmental studies and English literature. 

Research Interests

My research interests centre on aspects of indoor air quality that impact human health and wellbeing. My current research project aims to understand how I can use filter forensics to assess the presence and amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in a building with many occupants. Beyond my research project, I’m also interested in issues of environmental equity and indoor air quality, as well as the intersection of indoor air quality, cognitive performance, and wellbeing. I’m especially interested in how to communicate scientific research in order to effect change in peoples’ indoor air habits.

Projects

Filtration Performance
Filter Forensics
Indoor Microbiome: Surfaces, water, people
IEQ and COVID-19.


Alex Mendell

Alex Mendell

Background

I came to the University of Toronto after completing my B.Eng. in Civil Engineering at McGill University. My interest in buildings focuses on how they impact the health and wellbeing of people who use them.

 

LinkedIn profile

 

Research Interests

My research has so far examined indoor particulate matter in social housing and how to improve existing strategies for exposure reduction. Moving forward I want to continue investigating exposure to harmful air pollutants among vulnerable populations, develop and evaluate interventions in real-world settings, and better understand how people perceive indoor environmental quality.

Projects

Machine Learning and IEQ
Real-time IEQ Monitoring
IEQ in Social Housing

Publications


Meet your CivMin club leaders

Min Club President Joleia Bucad (L), Civ Club Vice-Chair Bo Zhao, and CivMin GSA President Praveen Siluvai Antony (R).

Entering this academic year with a renewed sense of optimism, the leaders of CivMin’s student clubs are on a mission to restore pre-pandemic levels of student involvement while continuing to support undergraduate and graduate students in their academic, professional and personal journeys here at the University of Toronto.

We recently chatted with each club leader to discuss their goals for the year and to get to know them a bit better.

Meet Civ Club Vice-Chair. Bo Zhao

Meet Min Club Chair Joleia Bucad

Meet GSA President Praveen Siluvai Antony

 

 

 

 

 

 


Researchers investigate health effects of fracking in B.C.’s Northeast

U of T’s Élyse Caron-Beaudoin and Marianne Hatzopoulou are working together to shed light on how fracking impacts air quality for B.C. communities and residents’ exposure to contaminants (photo by Johnny Guatto)

With thousands of wells and counting, the Northeast region of British Columbia is one of Canada’s most important hubs of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the process of blasting pressurized liquid at rock formations to fracture them and release the natural gas trapped inside.

Part of the region sits atop the Montney Formation, a massive, football-shaped tract of land that stretches into northwestern Alberta and is believed to contain one of the world’s richest reserves of shale gas.

But in addition to releasing gas, fracking also causes the emission of chemicals that can cause or exacerbate health problems, including birth defects, cancers and asthma. And while communities located near fracking areas have raised concerns about the health impacts, there has been a dearth of Canadian studies on the topic — until now.

Élyse Caron-Beaudoin, an assistant professor in environmental health in the Department of Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, is lead author of the only Canadian studies to have explored the health impacts and exposure to contaminants associated with fracking. The latest study, published in Science of the Total Environment, found high levels of some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in tap water and indoor air in the homes of pregnant women living in the Peace River Valley in Northeast B.C. The study was designed in partnership with the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, the West Moberly First Nations and the Saulteau First Nations.

“Overall, there are consistent associations with negative health effects,” says Caron-Beaudoin, who co-leads one of the only research groups actively investigating the health impacts of fracking in Canada and previously ran a smaller pilot study that found high levels of trace metals in urine and hair samples of pregnant women in two Northeast B.C. communities.

“What we don’t have a lot of in the literature is exposure assessment — measuring the level of exposure of local communities to chemicals that are potentially emitted or released during unconventional natural gas operations.”

To help fill this gap, Caron-Beaudoin is teaming up with Marianne Hatzopoulou, a professor in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, to shed light on how fracking impacts air quality and exposure to contaminants.

The project combines Hatzopoulou’s expertise in air quality research — modelling road transportation emissions, assessing urban air quality and evaluating population exposure to air pollutants — with Caron-Beaudoin’s scholarship in environmental health to lay the groundwork for a better understanding of the environmental and health justice implications of fracking.

It’s being supported by a $120,000 grant from XSeed, a funding program that aims to catalyze inter-disciplinary research collaborations involving scholars from the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and one of U of T’s other academic divisions.

Hatzopoulou’s first task is to develop air quality models — computer simulations that estimate the concentration of air pollutants generated by an activity, and the degree of population exposure to these contaminants — for various fracking scenarios.

“In urban environments, we try to quantify how much a car emits while it’s driving one kilometre,” says Hatzopoulou. “In industrial settings, we may try to understand how much is emitted from the stack as a function of the production of a certain material. With gas fracking, we try to understand what is being emitted during the different life stages of gas wells.”

The modelling, which involves combining existing measurements, data from regulatory agencies and data from published literature, includes creating an “emissions inventory.” It’s effectively a database containing information on the pollutants generated by different kinds of wells across their various stages of operation.

“What the air quality model does is resolve how air pollutants being emitted in the environment are going to disperse because of wind, meteorology, etc., and how they are going to chemically react with other species that are present in the atmosphere. Eventually, the output includes concentrations of multiple air pollutants that individuals are exposed to,” Hatzopolou says.

“Once exposures from the model are assigned to various individuals, we want to investigate how they relate to measurements conducted in homes and other markers in biological samples.”

This is where data from Caron-Beaudoin’s studies — she measured chemicals in indoor air and tap water, as well as the hair and nails of pregnant women — come into play.

“The urine gives you an indication of short-term exposure and the nails and hair more of a long-term exposure, so we can trace their exposure patterns back in time using those different types of samples,” Caron-Beaudoin says.

By probing the associations between Hatzopoulou’s modelled air pollution data and the chemical and biological samples gathered by Caron-Beaudoin, the researchers hope to develop a better understanding of the links between fracking activity and exposure to toxins.

Caron-Beaudoin’s team have also been working on developing exposure metrics related to well density, proximity and the different stages of well operation. That includes well pad preparation, drilling, fracking and gas production. The association between those metrics and modelled fracking emissions will also be investigated.

Ultimately, the goal is to generate evidence — and a suite of tools — to help estimate exposure to contaminants, an area where little knowledge exists due to the exorbitant cost of carrying out ongoing exposure studies.

“A big challenge of exposure assessment is the logistics and cost — it costs a lot of money to go to remote areas and have air quality sampling and water quality sampling,” Caron-Beaudoin says. “Hopefully our project can provide tools to estimate exposure accurately without having to rely on traditional exposure assessment methods that are costly and difficult to implement.”

Hatzopoulou adds that she hopes their work can be leveraged to inform regulations and engineering decisions that make it possible to curb the detrimental health impacts of fracking. What if well numbers are capped in certain areas? Should exploration be concentrated in certain spaces? How can air pollution be minimized through smart engineering decisions?

“This study will provide health and exposure information, which are lacking when regulatory agencies are currently issuing permits for fracking,” Hatzopoulou says.

A more immediate priority is to empower communities with knowledge about the impact of fracking operations on their health. Such information is critical given that the communities located near Canada’s fracking hotspots are disproportionately rural and Indigenous, and are therefore already disadvantaged by health and economic disparities.

“First and foremost, it’s important to arm communities with data about their exposures, what they’re breathing and the impact of what they’re seeing every day,” Hatzopoulou says.

“That’s the goal,” Caron-Beaudoin adds. “To share the data and results with communities so that they have as much information as possible to help make decisions on the types of industrial development happening on their territory.”

 

By Rahul Kalvapalle

 

This story originally posted by U of T News


Meet U of T Engineering’s new Vice-Dean, Strategic

Professor Heather MacLean (CivMin) was recently appointed U of T Engineering’s first Vice-Dean, Strategic. (Photo submitted)

When Professor Heather MacLean (CivMin) first interviewed for a position at U of T Engineering in the early 2000s, she was impressed by the Faculty’s broad perspective.

“My research includes sustainability assessment and life-cycle assessment for energy and transportation technologies and the built environment,” she says. “These topics are highly interdisciplinary and were not widely taught or researched at the time.”

“Most of the other engineering schools where I interviewed were trying to make me fit into a more traditional role, but U of T Engineering saw value in cross-disciplinary research and integrating sustainability within the curriculum.”

Today, MacLean has a unique opportunity to further enhance this broad perspective. As the first Vice-Dean, Strategic at U of T Engineering, she will work with a team of senior leaders to set the tone and direction of the Faculty’s mission for the coming years.

“I’m someone who thrives on challenges, loves learning new things, enjoys collaboration, and aims to be forward-looking,” says MacLean. “I am passionate about further advancing U of T Engineering on the global stage and having a positive impact on students, faculty and staff.”

MacLean has previously served in key leadership positions in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, including Associate Chair, Graduate; Associate Chair, Research; and Acting Chair.

MacLean says her high-level goals include harmonizing the Faculty’s strategy with that of other branches of the University, furthering Institutional Strategic Initiatives, contributing to the new Academic Plan, and continuing implementation of equity, diversity and inclusion policies, especially within research.

She plans to start with a “listening and learning phase,” meeting with internal and external partners to understand their views on opportunities, challenges and priorities of strategic importance. New initiatives will be formulated based on urgency and feasibility, with an eye toward remaining agile to respond to changing circumstances.

MacLean says it’s too early for specifics, but that the strategic direction of the Faculty flows from its greatest asset: its people.

“Each member of our community plays an important role,” she says. “Ensuring that contributions are acknowledged and valued is the foundation required for any progress at the strategic level. I look forward to connecting with everyone, and to synthesizing their thoughts into a cohesive vision for U of T Engineering.”

By Tyler Irving 

This originally published by Engineering News


Prof. Baher Abdulhai | Doug Ford’s government says building Highway 413 will get us out of gridlock. Its own research suggests that isn’t true

November 24, 2021 | Toronto Star


Prof. Marianne Touchie receives OBEC Rising Star Award

Pro. Marianne Touchie

Prof. Marianne Touchie has received the Rising Star Award from the Ontario Building Envelope Council (OBEC) for 2021. This award is given out biennially to recognize individuals that demonstrate exceptional knowledge of the design, construction and performance of the building envelope. Touchie says, “Having worked with OBEC for a number of years and seeing the important work this organization does, I’m so honoured to be recognized by this talented, dedicated group of professionals!” 

Since 1987 – The OBEC has been bridging the gaps amongst the architectural, engineering, research, manufacturers and construction communities. The non-profit organization addresses today’s challenges facing building performance and sustainability. One of OBEC’s keys to success is a dedication to building science education at all levels.


Prof. Jeffrey Siegel | What do we need to know about how ventilation and air filtration can reduce the spread of COVID-19?

November 19, 2021 | CBC – The Dose


U of T Engineering team earns Brockhouse Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering

CivMin’s Prof. Marianne Hatzopoulou among those honoured

Left to right: Professors Miriam Diamond (Earth Sciences, ChemE), Greg Evans (ChemE, ISTEP), Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivMin) and Senior Research Associate Dr. Cheol-Heon Jeong (ChemE) are some of the members of the multidisciplinary team that has earned NSERC’s 2021 Brockhouse Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

A multidisciplinary team that includes several U of T Engineering professors has been awarded the 2021 Brockhouse Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

The award recognizes outstanding Canadian teams of researchers from different disciplines. In this case, the team combined their knowledge and skills to better understand and address the critical public health issue of air pollution.

“It is very gratifying to see how research ideas that were seeded almost two decades ago have grown into such a supportive and energising collaborative community,” says Professor Greg Evans (ChemE, ISTEP), one of the recipients of the award.

“The research we have done together has led to real benefits. There’s a lot to be proud of.”

In addition to Evans, the award recipients include Professors Arthur Chan (ChemE), Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivMin) and Jim Wallace (MIE) as well as Senior Research Associate Dr. Cheol-Heon Jeong (ChemE).

They also include U of T Professors Miriam Diamond (Earth Sciences, School of the Environment, ChemE), Chung-Wai Chow (Temerty Medicine, UHN), Jeff Brook (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, ChemE) and Scott Weichenthal (Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health, McGill) as well as Dr. Robert Healy, Senior Scientist at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks.

“Those named on the award are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Evans. “There many others at U of T, in government, in industry and in NGOs or communities across Canada, not to mention more than 100 graduate and undergraduate students. I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with such great people.”

Top row, left to right: Professor Miriam Diamond (Earth Sciences, ChemE); Professor Arthur Chan (ChemE); Professor Jim Wallace (MIE); Senior Research Associate Dr. Cheol-Heon Jeong (ChemE); Professor Jeff Brook (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, ChemE). Bottom Row, left to right: Dr. Robert Healy, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks; Professor Greg Evans (ChemE, ISTEP); Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou (CivMIn); Professor Scott Weichenthal (Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health, McGill); Professor Chung-Wai Chow (Temerty Medicine,UHN). (Photos submitted)

Working out of the Southern Ontario Centre for Atmospheric Aerosol Research (SOCAAR), the team has developed innovative new tools and strategies for studying air pollution and its effects. These include new experimental methods and state-of the art tools, some of which have even revealed pollutants which were previously unrecognized or undetectable.

Together, the team has published 85 papers that integrate expertise from a wide range of fields: atmospheric chemistry, exposure science, vehicle engines, epidemiology, public health, urban design and respirology.

One example is a report released by the team in 2019 that highlights the role of rush-hour traffic and diesel truck emissions as major areas of concern.

“Our research indicated that older ‘heavy emitting’ trucks are making a disproportionate contribution to the exposure of Canadians to traffic-related air pollution,” says Evans.

“We were able to show that removing a small portion of vehicles off the road could offer a substantial benefit. It was very gratifying when the Province of Ontario cited this research as a reason for switching its vehicle emissions testing from cars to trucks.”

Another study used house dust to assess exposure from the 2016 Alberta wildfires that affected residents of Fort McMurray and the nearby Fort McKay First Nation community.

“My group spent two summers vacuuming in homes and analyzing pollutants, while Professor Chow worked with participants and assessed lung health,” says Chan. “We had a great time working together, especially when my engineering students had to learn how to measure lung function.”

The published findings showed that the levels of toxic substances, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, arsenic and heavy metals, were not any higher than in Canadian homes that had not been affected by the fire.

A critical component of the team’s approach has been knowledge translation. Working with a wide range of stakeholders nationally and internationally, the team has made an effort to have their findings support policy development, increase public awareness of air pollution, and develop novel ways to mitigate its effects. One example was a study that examined air quality on commuter trains in the GTA, which highlighted the need for improved air filters.

Going forward, a key area of focus will be the interplay between air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

“The associations between climate change and air pollution are complex, opening up new avenues for research,” says Hatzopoulou. “The pressure on governments to meet climate commitments comes with the additional complexity of reducing air pollution and promoting equity. Solutions need to not only reduce emissions but also enable positive societal outcomes. This is a tremendous challenge for research and policy.”

Despite the challenges ahead, the team members show no signs of losing momentum.

“We’ve seen the potential of this research to reduce preventable illness and mortality, and promote health and wellbeing,” says Evans. “It’s easy to stay motivated when it can benefit so many people in Canada and around the globe.”

“This is a problem that is ever-evolving,” says Chan. “The sources of pollution have changed over the years, from power plants and motor vehicles, to wildfires and even food cooking. People are always interested in what they are breathing in.”

 

By Tyler Irving

 

This story originally published by Engineering News


© 2021 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering