"We've got something to cure what ails you!"

Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, before the Pure Food and Drug Act, traveling salesmen and established pharmacies alike sold miracle elixirs. These "medicines" were said to boost vitality, virility, and strength, grow hair on your head, dispel vapors, or help you "find relief from such ailments as locomotor ataxia and insanity," according to the American College of Physicians.

Some of them turned into profitable products, but not in accordance with their original claims. The original 7 Up contained lithium; it was prescribed for gout, kidney stones, and rheumatism.

The worst scams take advantage of people when they are frightened, sick, or both. That's why it is so important to dig a little bit deeper before you accept product claims at face value. These days the most egregious claims come from the makers of some IAQ products. Fortunately, there are resources to help you evaluate the claims you are bombarded with.

Mold And Duct Claims

Tracy Lantz from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) talked about "The Use of Antimicrobials in HVACR Systems," as part of Indoor Air Quality Association's (IAQA's) annual meeting in Chicago. She works in the Office of Pesticide Programs Antimicrobial Division.

The EPA has a program to register labels for pesticides, including antimicrobials. According to Lantz, "There is no magic product," especially for HVACR applications.

Furthermore, "A pesticide for use on inanimate surfaces must be registered by the EPA and include an EPA Registration Number," which identifies the company and product, and may be used in order to get more information.

The label also must include lists of ingredients, precautions, and first aid; storage and disposal statements; company name and address; and directions for use. Directions that are not specific to HVACR surfaces are not to be used in HVACR systems. "We consider HVACR to be a unique site, especially as regards to product effectiveness," said Lantz.

Here's some information from Lantz that you should post prominently in the supply room: "It is a violation of federal law to use a product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling."

Obviously, the agency has concerns about HVACR products with antimicrobial claims. "HVACR is a unique use pattern, which does require an assessment to determine if exposure could create a risk," Lantz said. "We do have reported incidents of people who had health effects due to misapplied antimicrobials." But it's OK to use products that have specific HVACR directions on an EPA-approved label.

According to Lantz, it would be OK to use bleach to control a microorganism, if you use an EPA-registered product that lists the organism on the label. However, "There are currently no registered bleach products which include HVACR as a use site."

Read The Label

And here's something ironic about paints and coatings that have antimicrobial components. The antimicrobials only claim to protect the paint or coating that they are a part of, not the surface to which they are applied.

We could go on, but you get the idea. There are a limited number of HVACR products with approved, current EPA labels, which means they have gone through extensive testing and received a risk assessment. One such is from BBJ Chemicals (BBJ Microbiocide). Its label lists the following HVAC uses: "odor, stain, damage-causing bacteria, fungi, and algae treat unlined air ducts."

Although the deluge is over, we still receive dozens of products with some wild IAQ claims every month. Sometimes they claim to kill mold (or black mold). Sometimes they claim to be approved by agencies that have no product-approval authority, such as the CDC.

If you would like to check out approved product labels or those pending approval, visit www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/epa/epamenu.htm. To read EPA's opinion on antimicrobials in HVACR systems, visit www.epa.gov/oppad001/hvac.htm. If you would like to speak with a person, call EPA's antimicrobial hotline: 703-308-0127 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday).

The News will also continue to check out products and claims against reliable resources.

Barb Checket-Hanks is service/maintenance and troubleshooting editor. She can be reached at 248-244-6467; 248-362-0317 (fax); barbarachecket-hanks@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 12/01/2003