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ES Student Profile
Sharon Lee '03
Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment (BEHA)
Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment (BEHA)
As a division with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment (BEHA) is committed to protecting the public from a variety of environmental exposures. Responses to environmental health concerns are generally presented to communities as epidemiological and toxicological health assessments. The BEHA is comprised of five programs, including the Emergency Response/Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Unit. The IAQ Unit was created to attend to growing concerns with IAQ. Increased concerns result from energy conservation measures instituted in office buildings during the 1970s. Energy conservation measures were designed to minimize the infiltration of outside air, however, this contributed to the buildup of indoor air contaminants.
Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of air in the indoor environment within a building or an institution. These characteristics can be influenced by many factors, including:
Most of the work the IAQ Unit does involves IAQ in school buildings. The bulk of this work is done while school is in session. During the summer months, the IAQ Unit attends to other public concerns that surface. Complaints about IAQ range from simple grievances about the air smelling odd to more complex problems where the air quality causes illness and lost work time. It is often difficult to identify a single reason for IAQ complaints because of the number and variety of possible sources, causes, and varying individual sensitivities. Assessments general consist of moisture, temperature, carbon dioxide, and relative humidity readings and an examination of factors affecting IAQ as listed above.
Part of my summer internship included fieldwork at a variety of buildings that had requested IAQ consultations and evaluations. On one particular occasion, I accompanied the Unit Chief on an assessment at an elderly outpatients office that was located in the basement of a post office. The employees and patrons of the facility were concerned with IAQ problems that surfaced after a flood. An initial evaluation revealed that moisture contents were high and, thus, conducive to mold growth. Other IAQ problems also resulted from the flood that occurred. After this assessment, I assisted the Unit Chief in writing and editing the report. I also assisted in editing and researching for a variety of other reports.
The focus of my summer was IAQ in indoor ice-skating rinks. Massachusetts is one of three states to regulate IAQ in indoor ice-skating rinks (other states include Rhode Island and Minnesota). The regulation of IAQ in indoor ice-skating rinks comes under the jurisdiction of 105 CMR 675.000 Requirements to Maintain Air Quality in Indoor Skating Rinks (State Sanitary Code, Chapter XI). A variety of IAQ maintenance procedures are listed in the code (http://www.state.ma.us/dph/beha/indoor_air/ice.htm). According to this code, carbon monoxide (CO) levels must not exceed 30 parts per million (ppm) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels must not exceed 0.5 ppm because of the health implications associated to these two compounds. These gases are a problem in indoor ice-skating rinks because combustible fuels typically power ice resurfacing equipment, including Zambonis and edgers, typically release CO and NO2 into a contained environment when the equipment is used. The resulting effect is an accumulation of gases. If these gases are not ventilated out of the facility, they can rise to toxic levels causing a variety of pulmonary, vascular, and respiratory ailments.
As with any regulatory agent, enforcement is often a problem, and compliance can be low. The current State Sanitary Code regarding IAQ in ice skating rinks is currently undergoing revisions. This summer, I worked on amendments to the code by looking for existing "loopholes". Other tasks included creation of a database for records of ice skating rink visits made my the BEHA staff, creating newsletters to inform ice skating rink operators and manager of the dangers of CO poisoning and NO2 poisoning as related to ice skating rinks, and creating floor plans of all Massachusetts ice skating rinks using the AutoCAD program. I also gained field experience my going to ice skating rinks and testing air quality.
My experience at IAQ Unit with the Massachusetts DPH was invaluable. I once approached environmental science with a "save the world" attitude, but the people that I worked with showed me the importance of local action. IAQ continues to become a growing environmental health issue, with an increasing number of avenues and possibilities for employment. If you'd like to learn more about IAQ or environmental health, I suggest you look into it. For IAQ: http://www.state.ma.us/dph/beha/indoor_air/IAQ.HTM. For BEHA information: http://www.state.ma.us/dph/beha/indoor_air/IAQ.HTM.