The HVAC Inspection, Maintenance and Restoration Association, is alerting commercial property managers, school boards, and other facility operators of hidden health hazards potentially spreading in the ventilation systems of buildings affected by Hurricane Ike. HVAC systems that were either flooded or simply exposed to unusual humidity or other environmental conditions during the hurricane may become breeding grounds for mold or other contaminants.
While most molds are relatively harmless and usually cause little worse than hay fever-type symptoms, potentially life-threatening reactions could be caused by mold spores spread throughout a building by a contaminated HVAC system—particularly among individuals with health conditions such as asthma, compromised auto-immune systems, or severe mold allergies. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has cautioned facility managers that even the suspicion of mold in an HVAC system should be enough to get the system professionally inspected and cleaned if necessary.
“Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold, as it could spread contamination throughout the building,” says OSHA’s Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace (SHIB 03-10-10).
The Centers for Disease Control agree, telling facility professionals, “…all components of the HVAC system that were contaminated with flood water or moisture should be thoroughly inspected, cleaned of dirt and debris, and disinfected by a qualified professional.”
While a simple visual inspection performed by removing a vent and looking into the ductwork for signs of mold is a good first step, molds grow best in the damp and hidden corners deep within HVAC ductwork, out of sight of the average homeowner or building manager. Generally, only an HVAC inspection professional can truly determine if an HVAC system is mold-free.
“With the terrible devastation caused by Hurricane Ike, our concern is that the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue of HVAC contamination may get lost in among every other legitimate cleanup and rebuilding project,” explained NADCA Executive Director John Schulte. “We just want to make sure that the people of the Gulf Coast are aware of how to evaluate their risks for contaminated HVAC systems and know how to make contact with a licensed, knowledgeable and reliable professional if their situation requires it.”
In Texas, HVAC inspection, maintenance, and remediation professionals are required to be state-licensed Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors. NADCA (the HVAC Inspection, Maintenance, and Restoration Association, formerly known as the National Air Duct Cleaners Association) recommends that consumers choose licensed contractors that have also completed certification programs that ensure best practices and adherence to well developed standards. Fms can also choose service providers who have completed extra training and testing and fulfill ongoing professional education requirements to become Certified Ventilation Inspectors or Certified Ventilation System Mold Remediators.