Environmental Health Virtual Workshop

The Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City (OBEC) Initiative has been organizing public workshops to share information and ideas on its ten Themes of Sustainability – Transportation, Energy, Design, Habitat, Food, Natural Capital, Waste, Health, recreation and Sense of Place. The public enjoyed this workshop on environmental aspects of Health, with interesting Ottawa presenters. It took place in February 2017 at Beaver Barracks, 464 Metcalfe. The following are its key points.



Katie Hayes is a Doctoral Student in Public Health at the University of Toronto. Her research looks broadly at the environment as a determinant of health. She opened the workshop by providing the general context for the specific areas of focus of the panellists. Katie linked several local contributors to health, including community gardening, active transportation, complete streets, healthy watersheds, tree planting, outdoor living and the Wabano Centre for aboriginal health. She also provided kudos to Beaver Barracks, where the workshop was held. Katie praised it for providing affordable, accessible, environmentally sustainable housing in Centretown. She also encouraged the audience to see how the different perspectives provided by the panellists came together in a healthier Ottawa.



Birgit Isernhagen is a Program Planning and Evaluation Officer with Ottawa Public Health – OPH (ottawa.ca). The mission of OPH is to improve and advocate for health and well-being. This translates into promotion of healthy eating, active living and healthy complete communities.

The State of Ottawa Health shows that among grade 7 to 12 students only 19% walk or cycle to school and 23% report that they are overweight. Only 30% of adults pursue physical activities and half are overweight. The top five chronic conditions in older adults in Ontario relate to lack of exercise – high blood pressure, heart disease, back problems, diabetes, and arthritis. But there are solutions!

Ottawa’s Transportation Master Plan, which encourages walking and transit, could reduce direct health care costs by $100 million over 10 years.  Also the built environment can be designed to shape our health.

There are five strategies to a Healthier Built Environment:

  1. Active living and healthy eating make people want to walk or cycle;
  2. Promoting safety reduces injuries;
  3. Improving air, water & soil quality increases health;
  4. Access to natural spaces makes people healthier
  5. Design for social connectivity improves mental health.

How to encourage walking and cycling:

  • Create streets and pathways that connect;
  • Design complete streets with a mix of many land uses and amenities;
  • Cool the city with green roofs and white roofs;
  • Provide lots of access to green spaces; and
  • Make urban walking & cycling places beautiful

Let’s be healthy

  • Practice active living;
  • Enjoy natural green spaces;
  • Participate in the planning process; and
  • Start a conversation to create healthy places



Active transportation                                           Concept of Complete Street                                                  Outdoor recreation



Jake Cole is a member of the Sierra Club board of directors (sierraclub.org). He discussed how aspects of the environment can lead to cancer and how the risk can be reduced.

Cancer is the number on cause of death in Canada. Potential environmental causes and their remedies are:

  • Air Pollution
    • Drive less and practice active transportation to reduce air pollution
    • Support public transit
    • Plant trees and other vegetation to clean the air
  • Water
    • Encourage use of less chemicals in drinking water
    • Install a water filter on one of your taps
    • Don’t pour oil or chemicals into drains
  • Pesticides
    • Stop spraying for mosquitos and let nature control them
    • Don’t use pesticides on the garden; use soap or natural controls
    • Wash food before consuming, unless it is organic
  • Herbicides
    • Support spraying bans on school and city properties
    • Don’t spray your lawns; many natural controls are available
    • Avoid herbicides on golf courses
    • Wash food before consuming, unless it is organic
  • Radiation
    • Get a radon detector for your house or apartment
    • Ventilate well if radon is detected
    • Don’t smoke, it enhances the impact of radon
    • Support closing of nuclear power plants
    • Keep your cell phone 1.5 cm away from your body
  • Household Cleaners
    • Use environmentally friendly cleaners (e.g. from terra20)
    • Use natural products
  • Our Own Homes
    • Use natural materials for floors & furnishings to eliminate off-gassing
    • Eliminate moisture collection that can cause black mould
    • Keep toxic materials out of our homes
    • Don’t let anyone smoke in your home
    • Ensure your home has good ventilation


Hybrid bus                                                       Water filter                                                      Natural insect control




Washing food before use                              Radon detector                                                 Humidifier





Lan Chi Nguyen is Professional Engineer specializing on Indoor Air Quality for InAIR (inairenvironmental.ca). She began by dispelling the myth that outdoor air is always cleaner than indoor. Often the opposite is true. For example, particle counts might be much higher outdoors.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to attributes of air in buildings and enclosed spaces as they relate to health and comfort of occupants. In the absence of contaminants and irritants, good indoor air quality often goes unnoticed.

Contaminants & Parameters

  • Physical Contaminants
    • CO, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, particulates etc.
  • Thermal Comfort Parameters
    • Temperature, relative humidity, drafts etc.
  • Other Parameters
    • Noise, stress, lighting, ergonomics etc.

Impact on Human Health

  • Average person spends nearly 90% of time indoors
  • IAQ is one of top 5 environmental risks
  • Broad range of health effects
  • Radon increases risk of cancer
  • Bacteria and mound can cause infectious diseases
  • Dust mites can cause allergy or asthma symptoms

Greater risk for special populations: children, pregnant women, elderly, infirm

Non-industrial buildings

  • Great diversity of occupancy
    • All sorts of people there, and coming and going
  • Great diversity of uses
    • Offices, daycare, fitness, medical, food courts, commercial etc.

Sources of Contaminants

  • Occupants and their activities
  • Building materials & furnishings
    • Asbestos, lead paint, damp carpet or drywall, furniture etc.
  • Cleaning products
  • Personal care products
    • Perfumes etc.
  • Heating & cooling
  • Outdoor sources
    • Radon, pesticides, particulates

Problem with Contaminants

  • Multitude of contaminants
  • Synergy between them
  • Effects from low exposure
  • Incomplete standards and guidelines
  • Exposure agent or route may be unknown
  • People react differently to same contaminants

Pollution Migration Mechanisms

  • Sources: showers, kitchens, garage, construction areas, outdoors
  • Paths: stairwells, hallways, shafts etc.
  • Driving forces: exhaust, chimney effect (air rising), ventilation


  • Measuring everything can be costly
  • Inspect first
  • Measure at locations of complaints and non-complaints for comparison
  • Consider outdoor air and pollution migration path
  • If source is building, measure in morning or after weekend
  • If source is occupants, measure in afternoon
  • Continuous measurement to monitor changes

Four Things to Always Eliminate

  • Asbestos
    • Widely used from 1900
    • Significant exposure increases risk of lung cancer
  • Lead
    • Commonly used in paints prior to 1060
    • Children will eat lead paint because it is sweet
    • Causes blood poisoning and brain damage
  • Mercury
    • In old thermostats, old lab pipes and old hospitals, artefacts
  • Mould
    • Keep things dry

More Information

  • Occupational Safety & Health Admin (USA)
  • Centre for Disease Control (USA)
  • Health Canada
  • Provincial & State legislation
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers
  • Environmental Protection Agency (USA)
  • American Industrial Hygiene Association (USA)


Outdoor air                                                      Residence                                                         Indoor air


Institution – School                                         Mould in bathroom                                         Old lead paint



Tom Whillans, President of the Centretown Citizens Community Association and its Trees and Greenspace Committee (centretowncitizens.ca), provided a review of the committee’s activities. Centretown, along with Lowertown, are the oldest communities in Ottawa. Their challenges are maintaining and creating green features in areas with a great deal of development.  Tom spoke of the many advantages of green space in an urban environment, including: mood enhancement, recreation, social space and other health benefits.

Here are some of the initiatives of the CCCA Trees and Greenspace Committee:

Park Advocacy

  • Maintain green space and activities in Dundonald Park on Somerset
  • Upgrade Jack Purcell Park, which has many community features
  • Host annual sale at Minto Park on Elgin Street
  • Support Arlington and other pocket parks for use by toddlers
  • Liaise with Museum of Nature on east & west lawn development
  • Liaise with NCC on use of Confederation & Major’s Hill Parks
  • Pursue enhancements along Metcalfe, Somerset, and Elgin Streets
  • Create community parks, parkettes, linear parks or plazas
  • Create rooftop park on Nepean Street
  • Share information on green roofs e.g. Beaver Barracks
  • Include green space in new developments

Community Gardens

  • Support creation of Sweet Willow Organic Garden on Rochester Street
  • Support creation of Nanny Goat Hill Garden and market on Laurier West
  • Support for Victory Garden at Beaver Barracks
  • Create Off-Bank Garden on Nepean Street with Richcraft and City


  • Inventory of existing trees in Centretown
  • Assessing and maintaining older trees
  • Recommendation approach for replacement tree planting
  • Undertake tree planting along Metcalfe and Gladstone Avenues

Pedestrian Network

  • Ensure safety of walkers of all ages
  • Integrate pedestrian network with green spaces
  • Buffer parking lots from sidewalks with plantings
  • Lobby against garbage storage adjacent to sidewalks
  • Lobby for enhanced pedestrian right of way


Centretown Development Plan 2012                                                    Dundonald Park


Proposed pedestrian crossing at Queen Elizabeth Driveway              Centretown Citizens Community Association


Ottawa Public Health has produced two videos on the Built and Natural Environments and their benefits to health that communities across Canada can use to raise awareness and engage professionals and the general public.