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A variety of factors can contribute to the growth of mold in institutional and

commercial facilities, but one all-too-common culprit is HVAC equipment. The HVAC
system, including piping and drain pans, can be sources of mold growth and a
transportation mode for dispersing mold spores throughout a building.
Maintenance and engineering managers who understanding the ways that HVAC
systems can contribute to mold issues stand a better chance of developing
strategies to prevent such problems.

Understanding the Problem


Indoor molds typically are considered a problem when they are visible or when they
are amplified or vary in species compared to outside air. Molds generally need water,
a food source and the right temperature range to grow.
Indoor environments contain a host of food sources, including drywall, carpeting,
cardboard, paper, fabrics, wood and building furnishings. In addition, indoor
environments are designed to maintain relative temperatures that are conducive to
mold growth.
A managers best bet for controlling mold is to control, reduce or eliminate indoor
moisture. Active fungal growth can cause building occupants discomfort and
irritation, and it can increase the risk of respiratory illness.
Many managers attempt to kill mold with fungicides, biocides and cleaners. This
process will kill the mold, but it might not remove the problems. Leaving non-viable
mold spores in indoor environments, especially in the HVAC system, might end up
complicating indoor air quality (IAQ) complaints. So it is important for managers to
develop and implement a pre-emptive plan to prevent mold growth in HVAC
systems.
Managers also must understand steps to take and avoid when responding to
reports of mold in the system. Part of a sound HVAC management plan includes

preventing mold growth, responding to reports of mold and an evaluating situations


that require professional assistance.

A Lack of Guidance
No federal regulations exist pertaining to mold remediation, but efforts are under way
to develop federal mold regulations. Some states also are in the process of enacting
legislation governing the licensing of mold-remediation professionals. Several states
already have mold regulations, including Texas and Florida.
In the absence of regulations, several agencies, associations and groups have
published guidance on steps to prevent, investigate and remediate mold indoors.
Several documents address molds and the HVAC system. A few of the more
prominent sources, listed in the article on page 17, should be on every managers
desk.

HVAC Systems: A Closer Look


The proper design, installation and maintenance of the facility HVAC system is
essential for controlling indoor mold.
HVAC systems have a significant impact on condensation, a source of moisture for
mold. The system can also transport mold spores between areas of a building. Poor
design, operation and maintenance of the this system also can provide moisture to
support mold growth, and the system can provide a viable transportation mode for
mold spores throughout a building.
Key components to check during an HVAC system assessment include these:
Coils and drain pans. Cooling coils dehumidify air and cause condensate water
to drip into a drain pan and exit via a deep seal trap. Standing water accumulates if
the drain pan is not properly designed and maintained, creating a microbial habitat.
Proper sloping and frequent cleaning of drain pans is essential for healthy IAQ.
Humidification and dehumidification equipment. Technicians should
drain and periodically treat wet surfaces as necessary to prevent microbial growth,
and they should not allow duct linings to become moist from water spray.

Outdoor air dampers. Dust and debris that can support mold growth can
obstruct screens and grilles. Cleaning these surfaces regularly can remove dust
build-up.
Air filters. Technicians should replace filters regularly, either on the basis of
pressure drop across the filter or on a scheduled basis. Technicians also should shut
off fans when changing the filter to prevent contamination of the air. Filters should fit
tightly in the filter housing.
Higher-efficiency filters are often recommended as a cost-effective means of
improving IAQ while minimizing energy use. Product specifiers should match
filtration efficiency to equipment capabilities and expected airflows.
Ducts. A small amount of dust on duct surfaces is normal. Parts of the duct most
susceptible to contamination include areas with restricted airflow, duct lining and
areas subject to moisture or condensation. Technicians should identify and
remediate excessively wet areas, including the systems chronically damp internal
lining. Technicians can prevent problems with biological pollutants in the duct work
by:

minimizing dust and dirt build-up, especially during construction or


renovation work

promptly repairing leaks and water damage

keeping key system components dry

cleaning coils and drip pans

performing proper filter maintenance

performing proper housekeeping in occupied spaces.

Return-air plenum. Engineers often use the space above ceiling tiles a returnair plenum. Man-agers should strictly follow code that restricts material and supplies
in the plenum to prevent contamination and insure an uninterrupted airflow. Workers
also should remove all dirt and debris from construction activity.
Technicians must vigorously maintain all exhaust systems passing through the
plenum to prevent leaks and prevent exhaust from being released into the plenum.
Technicians also should check for condensation on pipes in plenum areas.

Cooling towers. Periodically monitoring water quality and chemical treatment to


prevent microbial growth is essential for proper IAQ. Physical cleaning to prevent
sediment accumulation and installation of drift eliminators also might be necessary.
Air intakes. HVAC technicians should pay attention to areas where outdoor air
enters the HVAC system. They also should investigate accumulations of organic
material in or near HVAC air intakes. Areas near Dump-sters, garbage cans, boxes,
paper, standing rain water, pond, lagoons, freshly disturbed earth and vegetation can
contribute to elevated indoor measurements of airborne fungal spores.
These materials includes bird or bat droppings, which support the growth of
pathogenic fungi and plant material that generally supports fungal growth. Ex-posure
to pigeon droppings on window sills or air conditioning units in urban office buildings
has been linked to fungal contamination.
The complex interior structures of commercial HVAC systems provide a host of
reservoirs for moisture and mold growth. These areas are difficult to assess and
remediate. Managers also can consider an assessment of:

filters for dampness, microbial growth


and dirt

heat exchangers, such as the cooling


coil section including drain pan

air conditioners for standing water,


microbial growth and dirt

ductwork and air diffusers for


dampness, microbial growth, dirt and
rust.

Cooling coils are one example of a component that is difficult to inspect and
thoroughly clean. Coil fins can buildup excessive mold growth, requiring the use of
aggressive cleaners. Some cleaners, however, can cause damage to the coil
fins.High-pressure water spraying also can damage the fins. Improper cleaning can
cause damage that affects the overall efficiency of the entire HVAC system.

In-house Responses

Nothing can replace proper design, operation and maintenance of an HVAC system
in improving IAQ. To achieve this goal, managers can develop a sound plan to
prevent and address mold growth associated with the system. Decreased system
performance, filter inefficiency, improper installation and poor maintenance all can
contribute to the spread of mold. But even the most diligent manager might find a
mold situation that requires clean-up.
Manager also can benefit from understanding several key principles when mold
clean-up becomes necessary.
First, they should use only trained and competent workers. A competent worker is
defined as one having not only proper training and knowledge but also the right
behavioral capacity to use that knowledge.
Managers looking for guidance on using in-house staff might consider a timely new
document. In May, the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences
issued,Guidance for the Protection and Training of Workers Engaged in
Maintenance and Remediation Work Associated With Mold. The document
addresses worker safety and work practices for in-house mold clean-up.
Second, technicians using proper work methods should remove or clean the
colonized materials and settled dust that might contain previously dispersed mold
spores. Disinfectants and cleaners for the HVAC system include EPA-registered
formulas for equipment disinfection and cleaning.
This process also can include the use of stabilized chlorine dioxide-oxine or an
approved equivalent. Fungicidal protective coatings include EPA-registered
polyacrylate emulsions formulated for long-term fungicidal activity and HVAC
application.
Finally, workers should use cleaning methods that offer protection and do not spread
mold spores to non-affected areas. These methods include using proper personal

protective equipment, isolation procedures, and decontamination methods to protect


workers and avoid tracking contamination outside of the work area.

Outside Assistance
Mold growth in HVAC systems is one area in which the use of a mold-remediation
professional might be beneficial. No consensus definition exists for a qualified mold
professional. Finding a professional who understands the unique issues and
complexities of HVAC system contamination is a greater concern. Mold-remediation
professionals working on HVAC systems might need a mold remediation license in
certain states. They also might need a license to clean HVAC systems.
Managers should check their operating procedures, safety procedures, training and
certifications. Those lacking any of these items or who cannot describe the contents
of these documents should raise a red flag.
Finally, managers need to make sure the insurance they carry specifically covers
fungal remediation by having the insurance, risk management or legal department
verify appropriate coverage.
Proper design, operation and maintenance of an HVAC system will go a long way to
preventing or reducing mold issues. Understanding the HVAC components and
conditions support mold growth, as well as steps that prevent mold growth in these
areas, are essential information for managers looking to both prevent and remediate
mold problems.