Study to investigate indoor air quality in affordable housing near busy roadways

Researchers seek ways to improve indoor air quality in multifamily housing, teaming with city of Somerville, Mass. as a model
Somerville
(Image via Creative Commons)
January 23, 2019

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Robin Smyton

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (Jan. 23, 2019)—A first-of-its-kind study led by Tufts University researchers, in collaboration with Somerville officials and citizens, will measure indoor air quality and comfort in multifamily housing developments near busy roadways. The study will develop recommendations for the design and operation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to create a protective indoor environment that restricts residents' exposure to transportation-related air pollution.

New multifamily, affordable housing, particularly in densely-populated areas like Greater Boston, often is built near roadways and interstates, where some of the only remaining developable land is located.

However, living close to major roadways and highways is associated with elevated risk for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. The study, to be conducted over the next three years, will have a special focus on near-roadway multifamily housing in Somerville, including buildings in the newly-constructed Assembly Row neighborhood, nestled between I-93 and the Mystic River and surrounded by heavily-travelled roads.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the study will be led by John L. Durant, Ph.D, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Tufts School of Engineering. Neelakshi Hudda, Ph.D., research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Doug Brugge, Ph.D., professor of public health and community medicine at the Tufts University School of Medicine, will work in key roles.

"As communities encourage developers to construct more affordable housing to meet demand and promote inclusion, it is important that they consider maximizing both indoor air quality and personal comfort – in terms of heating and cooling - for their residents," said Durant. "Our study will quantify this problem, propose solutions that could help guide developers to better designs, and inform public policy discussions."

Together Tufts researchers and collaborators aim to develop a guidance document for multifamily housing designers and builders.

As the most densely-populated city in New England, Somerville is well-suited for this research. Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone chaired the Metro Mayors Coalition, which pledged to add 185,000 new housing units to the region to address the greater Boston housing crisis and curb displacement. As of 2016, Somerville requires new housing developments of 18 or more units to make 20 percent of those units affordable, one of the highest rates of affordability in the country.

Research team members from the community include Ellin Reisner, Ph.D., and Wig Zamore of the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership (STEP), a group of Somerville residents focused on improving transportation and reducing air pollution in the city; Somerville Housing Director Michael Feloney; and HVAC expert Mike Zimmerman from Allied Consulting Engineering Services, Inc.

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About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.