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Hamza Mbareche: Interview With a Leading Air Quality Researcher

The air quality been checked by the researchers.

Hamza Mbareche, an acknowledged expert in aerosol science and molecular biology, is a postdoctoral researcher of bioaerosols, the microbiome, genomics and bioinformatics. He has been ranked 22nd in a list of more than 7,000 researchers for his proven expertise in air microbiology over the last five years.

His research interests often center on environmental health and patient care; specific projects have examined airborne viral transmission in a simulated intensive care unit, the whole-genome sequencing (WGS) of SARS-CoV-2 from patients swabs and environmental samples (air and surfaces), the WGS of the Influenza A virus in bioaerosols collected from swine barns, and the detection and sequencing of Orthobunyaviruses from mosquitoes collected in Southern Ontario.

He has held fellowships and research positions at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Université Laval.

A frequent author, Hamza has assisted in 32 articles for peer-reviewed scientific publications. He currently serves as the vice president of the University of Toronto’s Postdoctoral Association.

How important is air quality?

Hamza Mbareche:
Harmful air is a danger to families, employees and communities. Finding the source of contaminants in the air, measuring the quantity of pollutants, and using advanced technology to remedy the issue are necessary first steps in ensuring the well-being of ourselves and the people we love. Pure air is vital to health, longevity and quality of life.

Poor air quality has an economic price, as well. In Canada the annual cost is estimated to be at least $120 billion. That does not count the human cost, which can range from development of chronic medical issues to long-term hospitalization, and worse.

What are the most effective ways to improve indoor air quality?

Hamza Mbareche: Unhealthy indoor air is usually the result of interior sources (materials generating hazardous particles), rather than outdoor air seeping into buildings. Furniture can release formaldehyde, and cooking, heating units, plastics, and household products can all produce dangerous organic compounds. Carpets are a source of bacteria and fungi, which can be aerosolized into the air by simple activities like walking. Mold growing on surfaces and within walls can generate airborne fungus particles, and dust is the optimal transmission agent for dust mites.

Although detecting and measuring these airborne risks involves sensitive instruments, sophisticated computations and new technologies, preventative measures are still remarkably basic.

For indoor air, that can mean something as simple as opening windows and using fans. Constant ventilation helps extrude particles from a room, and keeping surfaces dry can prevent the growth of mold. Paying close attention to the household products and interior design items you purchase such as paints, carpet and paneling can reduce the amount of organic compounds that will be generated inside a dwelling.

What did the pandemic teach us about airborne pathogens?

Hamza Mbareche: The last two years have brought into sharp focus the importance of my research field: the study of airborne microorganisms, genomics and bioinformatics.

My post-doctoral research into airborne viral transmission in a simulated intensive care unit and the whole-genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 was particularly relevant as the sudden appearance of COVID-19 led to desperate searches for answers to some fundamental questions, including how the virus was transmitted, how long it could linger in the air, how wide its distribution pattern was, and what effective measures could be taken by individuals, institutions, businesses and governments to protect the population.

Soon specialists in aerosol and atmospheric science concluded that this deadly new virus could stay suspended in the air for hours, and that social distancing protocols were limited in their ability to prevent inhalation of these dispersed particles in indoor public settings.

The public began to learn a truth that researchers of airborne pathogens have long known: that poor air quality was linked to millions of deaths and cases of disability around the world even before the outbreak of COVID. For the first time, the academic specialties that I have intensely studied gained greater visibility — and new appreciationz

Why did you start Hamza Mbareche Consulting?

Hamza Mbareche: Beyond the theoretical aspect of studying complex air quality issues, I saw a practical need to offer solutions. My consulting service focuses my extensive experience in airborne microorganisms, the microbiome and genomics on the air in residential or office environments.

I’ve helped schools, hospitals, nursing homes, businesses and homeowners discover air quality issues and effectively address them. I also provide training and workshops for air quality sampling, sample processing, data analysis, and results interpretation.

My approach to investigating occupational exposure uses state-of-the-art technologies, industry best practices and is guided by the latest research in the aerobiome, bioaerosols, whole-genome sequencing of pathogens and related fields. For every issue, I present a plan and a range of effective solutions.

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