City Tech Professor Leads Healthy Building Research Project with Students

Biological Sciences Professor Davida Smyth has organized a research project with students that focuses in part on the use of antimicrobials in the construction of buildings. In an effort to understand what constitutes a healthy—or unhealthy—building, Smyth and her students studied various types of surface bacteria on the City Tech campus.

“At City Tech, the students and I are working to identify what constitutes a healthy building. Just like within us and on us, bacteria are an expected component of our building’s ecology, and transient pathogenic organisms are likely to be found colonizing surfaces. Through studying the seasonal dynamics and mechanisms by which bacteria colonize our building, we will have a greater understanding of how the building contributes to the bacteria found,” said Smyth.

Biomedical Informatics students Fabiola Fontaine, Manhin Lam and Wing Pan Kenny Tsang are also involved in the research.

l to r: Tsang, Lam, Smyth, Fontaine.

l to r: Tsang, Lam, Smyth, Fontaine.

Resulting from her role in Professor Smyth’s research project, Fontaine presented her research, “Microbiology of the Built Environment: Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in the New York City College of Technology,” on November 11 at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in San Antonio, Texas. Fontaine had received the highly competitive ABRCMS Student Travel award, which covered her expenses at the conference. From Haiti, Fontaine is a first generation college student; she hopes to attend medical school.

Professor Smyth was recently invited to write an article about building products and antimicrobials for the Healthy Building Network (HBN), which was founded in 2000 to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in building products as a means of improving human health and the environment. HBN is an advising partner of Building Product Ecosystems, a collaborative effort initiated by the Durst Organization, in partnership with The City University of New York and the New School University, to optimize the health of construction product ecosystems through material research and innovation, process improvements, policy/code evolution, and accessible education.

The Health Building Network focuses on building products for two reasons: First, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors, and can be exposed to unhealthy chemicals there at much greater concentrations than outdoors. Second, the volumes of building products are so great – in excess of three billion pounds produced annually – that reducing the use of hazardous materials not only benefits the people who build, maintain and occupy buildings, but also the manufacturing sites and communities from which the materials come, and the dumps, incinerators or recycling facilities to which they are sent after their useful life.

Read Smyth’s HBN article here: http://www.healthybuilding.net/news/2014/11/19/antibacterials-in-building-products-the-good-the-bad-and-the-downright-ugly