TORONTO - 2008 was a good year for CMX, the biennial HVAC, plumbing, sheet metal and ventilation show at Toronto’s convention center. Numbers were up 10 percent over 2006, the last time the show was held. The official attendance, including exhibitors, was 14,087 for the March 27-29 event.

Off the trade show floor, organizers said the event’s educational sessions helped draw many attendees back to the event multiple days.

Among those popular seminars was Robert Bean’s March 27 discussion, “Indoor Air Quality and the Built Environment.” It dealt with a lot more than just IAQ. In fact, he probably could have changed the name to “indoor environmental quality,” since he said human health is impacted by a lot more than just inside air, including building materials, light, sounds and smells.

Bean is the editor, a nonprofit, educational Web site based in Calgary, Alberta. His presentation, which made heavy use of videos and other visuals, focused on the link between workspaces, housing and health. He showed a long list of the potential irritants - and even carcinogens - that exist in many buildings. At times, it resembled a human anatomy course.


Bean said HVAC contractors have a crucial role.

“Your job is to make sure they (the toxins) don’t exist in the first place,” he said.

These toxic exposures don’t just affect the people who come in contact with them. Recent research has shown that some substances effect humans’ genes, possibly harming their future offspring.

“We actually can create health problems for the next generation just based on what we expose our bodies to,” Bean said.

Poorly constructed homes, which can exacerbate medical problems like asthma, make people into “human lab rats.”

He talked about the many sensors in the skin that affect how people feel, physically and emotionally. If someone is too hot or sneezing from an airborne irritant, that can reduce his or her quality of life.

“The IAQ issue is very much a human issue,” he said, comparing the body to “an ultra-high HEPA filter.”

“You are very much part of the health care industry,” he told the contractors in the audience.

Ideally, indoor air quality should not be something only considered once a structure is under construction, Bean said.

“A whole part of IAQ begins with your choice of land,” he said, adding that methods should be different if the area is industrial or more rural.

Thomas F. Pedersen, dean of science and marine geochemistry professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, warned attendees of his March 26 seminar that global climate change threatens the world’s economy in coming years.

Saving the planet

The week that HRAC held its convention, which included the March 27 seminar, “Climate Change: Where on Earth are We Going?” it was announced that a major chunk of Antarctic iceberg fell into the ocean. The incident was not missed by Thomas F. Pedersen, dean of science and marine geochemistry professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

He said it is just another example of the human-induced climate change now occurring around the world. Echoing statements made by many scientists and former Vice President Al Gore in his 2006 film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Pedersen said the Earth is warming, and more quickly than thought just a few years ago.

Most experts, including Pedersen, blame human activities for increasing the greenhouse gases that are heating up the atmosphere.

Pedersen explained that so-called greenhouse gases, including water vapor and carbon dioxide, are what make the Earth habitable. But too much of them drives up the temperature, causing ice to melt and the world’s water levels to rise. Unchecked, the problem could lead to catastrophic consequences, such as much of Florida being under water within a hundred years.

He showed a chart of the increasing levels of carbon dioxide as measured at a remote lab in Hawaii.

“This is an extraordinary rate of change,” Pedersen said. “As far as we know, Mother Nature has never imposed an acceleration in the levels of this gas at that rate.”

Jacques Pare of Duro Dyne Canada talks at the company’s booth.

Unintended effects

In part, an effort to clean up the environment may have accelerated the problem. Until the early 1980s, the atmosphere had a lot of sulfur and soot due to the heavy use of coal for making electricity. The gas and ash increased pollution, Pedersen said, but it helped keep the Earth’s temperature down.

Once the pollution decreased, global temperatures started to rise.

The effects are easy to spot.

“If you go to western Canada, look at Fort McMurray (Alberta). Signs of global warming are all around you,” Pedersen said.

Sea levels are increasing 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) a year - the fastest rate ever.

“The rate of increase is increasing,” he said.

Pedersen figured that between now and 2100, world temperatures will rise between 1.5 and 6°C (34.7 and 42.8°F).

It may even be more, he added.

Global warming cannot be stopped, Pedersen said. Actually, the Earth’s temperatures have been slowly going up for thousands of years.

“Climate change, as induced by humans, is a rate-of-change problem,” he said.

But humans can slow it down and likely avoid the worst-case effects. They’ve done it before, he pointed out. In the late 1980s, the world agreed to phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbon-using materials, including HVAC refrigerants. They were blamed for a growing hole in the ozone layer. Today, the use of such chemicals is almost nonexistent.

According to Pedersen, those who work to do the same to replace oil and coal could find it very profitable.

“There’s money to be made. Changing the way we make energy on this planet is a goldmine,” he said.

Doug Geralde of CSA Group said Canada should improve its intellectual property laws to thwart counterfeiting of HVAC equipment and other products.

F for fake

Whether it’s bootleg refrigerants or smuggled cigarettes, Canada needs to do more to combat the country’s growing counterfeiting business.

That was the message in Doug Geralde and Brian Isaac’s March 28 session, “Teaming Up to Help Stop Counterfeiting.”

Geralde is director of audits and investigations for the CSA Group, which sets federal product standards, and chairman of the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network. Isaac is chairman of the network’s legislative committee.

Unlike the United States and much of Europe, Canada has not updated its laws to reflect the modern ideas of intellectual-property rights, the men said. Knock-off merchandise is not limited to flea markets or handbag vendors on street corners. Fake equipment ranging from HVAC refrigerants to circuit breakers and electrical cords are finding their way into major dealers’ stock rooms and citizens’ homes, and public buildings.

The size of this underground market is unknown in Canada, Isaac said.

“It’s very, very hard to measure,” since the country does not keep close track of the problem, he said.

But in the United States, government authorities estimate that in 2007, more than 13,000 counterfeit items were seized, representing hundreds of millions of dollars in street value.

Worldwide, the bootleg market is pegged at $5 billion.

Industry affected

The HVAC industry has also been infected. In addition to refrigerants, Geralde said investigations have turned up poorly made, counterfeit compressors, valves and filters being passed off in Canadian stores.

Selling such items, which are untested by federal safety regulators but often bear markings implying that they were, is potentially dangerous and incredibly profitable since the fines for being caught in Canada are low by international standards.

“If there’s a loss of confidence in our (the CSA) trademark, we’re out of business overnight,” Geralde said.

To demonstrate what can happen when an imitation product is used, he showed a picture of a household white extension cord that appeared to be certified by Canada’s safety regulators.

However, because it used a higher-gauge wire much thinner than what would be considered safe, it overheated during typical use and melted the plastic around it. Such an event could start a house fire, Geralde said, adding that counterfeits like the power cord “can kill.”

Deaths have also been linked to bootleg prescription drugs that contained no medicine or in some cases, poisonous substances, he said. These fake medications are often sold by groups that have ties to organized crime or terrorists.

That’s why no one should mistake counterfeiting for a low-priority crime.

“All the people who make these items care about is profit,” Isaac said.

Since many bootleg products are made with cheaper materials, they often cost far less than their “official” counterparts, Geralde said, adding that a low price and subtle printing errors are often giveaways that an item is not the real thing.

Besides low penalties, convicting counterfeiters in Canada is not easy, the men said. Its criminal code requires that prosecutors prove buyers thought the bootleg items were genuine. Not everyone cares if a product is a fake, especially if it’s cheap enough.

Isaac said the government, contractors, manufacturers and consumers have to work together to fix the problem.

“Keep it on their (the government’s) agenda,” he told the audience. “Don’t add to the problem by buying counterfeits and bringing them into Canada.

“(And) when someone does encounter a counterfeit, they should report it.”

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail