Just how closely are hvac systems linked to health? The 2001 ASHRAE Annual Meeting tossed that idea around a bit, without the issue getting much clearer. However, it becomes much less muddy when you look at a couple of high-consumer-awareness topics: heat and mold.

Heat awareness has reached new highs since the death of Minnesota Vikings’ lineman Korey Stringer. We know that some individuals (those with heart conditions and other medical problems) are at a higher risk than others when their air conditioning stops functioning. Many contractors offer preferential service to customers at risk. And heaven forbid anyone on the hvac front lines should be lost to heat in the line of duty.

But it has happened. News Contractor Consultant Bob Dobrowski stated that in the worst case of technician endangerment he’s seen related to heat, the man was “dead, dehydrated, left in an attic to work by himself. Common sense would have prevented this.” Why did it happen? “Just pure greed,” said Dobrowski. It’s probably not the only case out there.

We don’t know the deceased, his company, or the particulars, but will only say this: Using the buddy system is just one of the things contractors say is mandatory in order to work safely in extreme heat.

We hope this week’s page-one article gives you some fresh ideas on how to help workers deal with the heat. We were especially intrigued by the idea of using a split system for temporary attic cooling being used by a few of the contractors interviewed for the article. We’ll keep you posted on how well this works for them.

Don’t Forget The Mold

When contractors and techs are working as hard as humanly possible to restore cooling, it’s easy to forget about mold growth and IAQ-related health risks. But don’t let your guard down.

Heat or no heat, masks and other protective gear are still necessary for techs to avoid breathing mold spores under certain conditions.

The nation’s current spell of high humidity, combined with system grunge and cooling condensation, is probably giving mold and other biological contaminants added strength.

Add to this the fact that most customers caught short in a heat wave probably have not had their systems regularly maintained or cleaned, and the likelihood of your techs encountering mold and other biologicals is amplified.

In addition to reminding your techs to take care of themselves, ask them to make a note of customers whose systems look like they could contribute to IAQ problems. And don’t forget to tell the customers.

In addition to helping them stay healthier and plain doing the right thing by them, remember that business will slow down some time. System cleaning could help your company through the slower, in-between-season months.

With a tendency to focus on the systems, people in the field also may forget just how influential they are in issues related to health.

A Mom’s Perspective

Hvac contractors can and do play a pretty big role in mold remediation and customer education. We were reminded of just how big that role is when we received the following letter from Jennifer Holland, a homeowner in Kansas City, MO:

“I was recently handed a copy of your publication from my father, who works at [mechanical contractor] Waldinger Corp. It [the June 4, 2001 News issue with the article “Close Encounters of the Moldy Kind”] was given to me because of my close personal experience with Stachybotrys. My now five-year-old son has suffered from severe allergic reactions to the mold for years.

“I am sure you know how serious the adverse health effects can be. My son had allergies, increased infections that did not respond to antibiotics (including a pneumonia w/empyema [infected fluid] that required surgery to his then three-and-a-half-year-old chest), numerous ear infections, hearing loss, memory loss…it was a nightmare.

“However, last October we had the house tested for Stachybotrys and cleaned it up in November-January and have not even been to the doctor for a cold!

“Doctors are not yet acknowledging the problem — even reknowned allergists and infectious disease doctors. If it was not for the help and information obtained from people in the hvac line of work, I probably would have lost my son.

“Please let everyone know that this stuff is very serious. If they suspect a problem or are unsure they need to disclose, it is not a matter of possible litigation or of whether or not to put your neck on the line — it literally could save a life.”

Checket-Hanks is the service/maintenance and troubleshooting editor. She may be reached at 313-368-5856; 313-368-5857 (fax); checket-hanksb@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 08/13/2001