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Air Conditioner Mold: Can You Get Sick from Air Conditioning?

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Last Updated on July 29, 2015


Air Conditioner Mold Can Make You Seriously Sick.

In July in New York City, it can feel like we’re living in the tropics, with the weather alternating between heat and humidity and thunderstorms with torrential downpours. As your discomfort grows, do you know what else is growing in your air conditioner? Mold and bacteria. Now it’s September and the NOAA is predicting at least one major hurricane this season.

If you’ve been neglecting regular maintenance of your air conditioning system, you’re setting yourself up for a potentially serious situation. As the temperature and humidity levels fluctuate, so does your risk of contamination from mold and disease-causing bacteria, including legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease.

Over the past few years, there have been increasing cases of Legionnaire’s disease in the news, and in many of those cases, the legionella bacteria was found in the air conditioning cooling tower. So in short: Can you get sick from air conditioning? If your system is not properly cleaned and maintained, YES!

When the cooling tower is not regularly cleaned, mold and algae grow and accumulate. With the presence of warm water in the tower, it’s the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. As air conditioning and ventilation system spreads air from the cooling tower throughout your building, the bacteria become airborne and spread disease among the building’s occupants.

Keep your building safe from airborne disease and air conditioner mold by cleaning the cooling tower to remove mold and prevent the growth of bacteria. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides the following 5 recommendations for maintaining your cooling tower:

  1. Inspection: At least monthly, visually inspect your equipment to look for mold accumulation.
  2. Water Temperature: Check sump water temperature regularly and keep at about 68 degrees, depending on the design of your system. Consult your NYC HVAC service provider for a recommendation.
  3. Cleaning: Even if you have a new system in a brand new building, it requires cleaning and disinfecting because construction material residue can contribute to the growth of dangerous bacteria. If the system is not used year round, it should be drained and cleaned prior to start up in the spring, and after shut down in the fall. If it is used year round, do it quarterly. This should also be done if the system is out of service for any extended period of time. A maintenance contract with a certified HVAC service provider ensures that this will be done correctly and on schedule.
  4. Prevention treatments: Use chemical biocides to control the growth of bacteria and other air conditioner mold. The use of corrosion inhibitors and antifoaming agents is also recommended. Check with the equipment manufacturer or an experienced HVAC service provider for recommendations. It’s also a great idea to do monthly testing for the presence of bacteria, especially if you’ve had a problem in the past.
  5. Record Keeping: Use a log book (or even better, a facilities management software system) to keep detailed records of your equipment’s history, maintenance, inspections, cleanings, treatments, and water temperatures and water quality test results. Make sure this information is readily available.

Beat the heat and stay on top of air conditioner mold and bacteria growth with a careful maintenance plan. In addition to the health and safety issues, you’re also risking equipment breakdowns and paying higher energy costs if this task is neglected. Isn’t it time you consulted with the experts and crossed this off your to-do list?

For more information about setting up a preventative maintenance plan that meets the needs of your business and your budget, grab a copy of our helpful guide: HVAC Preventative Maintenance Contracts: How to Find the Right One for Your HVAC Infrastructure.
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