Fiberglass HVAC Duct Mold Contamiantion Why is Mold Found in HVAC Ducts & in Fiberglass Duct Insulation
WHY DOES MOLD GROW in INSULATION? - CONTENTS: Causes of mold growth in building insulation & in HVAC ductwork - mold in air ducts. HVAC mold survey methodological error sources. Mold genera / species most often found in HVAC air handlers & ducts.What causes the occurrence of mold growth in fiberglass insulation in buildings: causes, hazards, cure, prevention. Does toxic or allergenic mold actually grow in fiberglass or is it just moldy dust in fiberglass insulation? Procedure Guide for Testing or inspecting for moldy building insulation or moldy heating or air conditioner duct insulation. EPA and other government advice about moldy ducts or suspected moldy HVAC ductwork
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Causes of mold growth in HVAC ducts & in building insulation:
This article explains the cause, detection, and hazards of mold growth in fiberglass insulation in residential
and light-commercial building and gives advice about dealing with moldy building insulation or ductwork. Mold may grow at extensive or problematic levels in some building insulation materials used in walls, floors, ceilings as well as in HVAC air duct systems.
We describe the types (genera/species) of mold most often found in HVAC ducts and the relationship between mold in ductwork and indoor air quality complaints by building occupants. We include authoritative citations for key research on mold contamination in HVAC ductwork.
Where & Why Does Mold Grow in HVAC Ductwork & in Building Insulation?
Mold growth & Mold Contamination are Common in HVAC Systems
This website discusses health hazards associated with moldy fiberglass in buildings, with focus on fiberglass insulation, fiberglass fragments, fiberglass in heating and air conditioning duct work, and invisible but toxic mold growth in fiberglass which has been wet, exposed to high humidity, or exposed to other moldy conditions.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Mold is often found in basement fiberglass insulation, crawl space fiberglass insulation, fiberglass wall insulation, heating or cooling duct fiberglass insulation, and attic or roof insulation in buildings which have either been
wet or have been exposed to high levels of mold from other sources.
It is common for a careful inspection of air handlers and HVAC ductwork to find mold contamination on the duct interior as well as in the air handler on the blower assembly squirrel cage fan blades and other components.
In our experience as both field and lab investigators, several genera/species of mold are quite common in these environments (as well as in fiberglass and possibly some other building insulation products).
Our photo of a moldy air handler interior in a Florida home (left) is provided by home inspector & educator Mark Cramer.
Where conditions support mold growth within the HVAC system air handler and ductwork, we also may find significant mold colonization of the surfaces of air supply registers or the ceilings around them. (Next photo, below).
HVAC Studies for Mold Contamation - Methodological Error Risks
Tests for mold in HVAC systems are vulnerable to methodology errors, particularly in the selection of sampling sites.
Variations in moisture and uneven distribution of organic debris and dust through the system are very important effects on what mold is found where.
For example, sampling immediately downstream from the blower assembly we are more likely to find more water-tolerant fungi (Cladosporium spp.) associated with condensate blow-off spun into that area by the blower fan.
Sampling further into the duct system may discover Aspergillus spp. that prefers somewhat drier surfaces.
Ducts exposed to special conditions (flooding, greases or organics from cooking, etc) may support additional or different-dominant mold genera/species.
Fungal growth on fiberglass appears to be supported by the normal organic debris (skin cells that dominate house and other building dust), combined with moisture or even condensation and water found in the HVAC system.
But we also find mold contamination even in some clean-looking fiberglass building insulation, possibly supported by a combination of moisture and some organic resins or binders, or at times, simply having been absorbed by insulation that is installed in a very moldy environment whose mold is from another source reservoir.
And see SLAB DUCTWORK for the role of in-slab placement of air ducts in the formation of mold contamination in HVAC systems.
Common Mold Genera/Species Found in HVAC Systems & Ductwork & Building IAQ Complaints
Experts studying both mold contamination in HVAC ductwork and related building indoor air complaints have confirmed our own lab experience that identifies Cladosporium spp. or C. herbarum, (most common), Aspergillus versicolor (common) A. flavus (common), and A. fumigatis. 
Those studies also point out that even when apparently modest levels of mold contamination traced to HVAC systems are removed (usually by removing the contaminated or "mold colonized" duct insulation or if that isn't possible, by replacing the ductwork) building IAQ complaints decline significantly.
Dirty HVAC Ducts That Cannot be Cleaned
The left photo shows how fragile is the fiberglass insulation in some HVAC ducts. The rough surface attracts and collects organic and other
particulate debris moving through the duct system (unless good filtration is installed at the return air inlets).
The surface of an HVAC duct lined with fiberglass cannot be
mechanically cleaned - you can see what happens when someone tries to brush or vacuum it by looking at this photo. Once disturbed by
improper "cleaning' efforts, the release of airborne asbestos in the building will certainly increase. If this insulation is wet by
leaks or improper condensate handling, or if the building is exposed to high levels of airborne mold from another source, ducts that look
like this are likely to become a problem mold reservoir and will need to be replaced.
The second photo at above right shows typical debris, usually skin cells and fabric fibers, which collects on the rough surface of exposed
fiberglass inside ductwork. A return opening filter would have helped keep this duct clean and thus extend its life.
Water or condensate leaks into an HVAC duct system such as those shown by the above photographs of stains on the interior of this rooftop mounted commercial HVAC duct (left) and
indoor residential air handler unit (right), are an invitation
to mold or bacterial contamination in the system.
DF-OPINION: it is more (or less) likely that problematic mold will be found growing in or present in building insulation at a level sufficient
to be a potential problem for building occupants in these conditions:
Low-risk insulation: Mold requires moisture and organic material for nourishment, as well as other growing requirements that vary by mold genera and species.
So perfectly clean, dry fiberglass or other building insulation is unlikely to harbor a problem mold reservoir.
Wet or "dirty" building insulation: often is found to be moldy, either on the kraft paper or foil/paper insulation backing or in the insulation itself.
Insulation which is old and has become populated or "soiled" with organic debris such as animal dander (a home housing animals, especially dogs)
or insect fragments (an old house with old insulation) contains plenty of organic debris which can support fungal growth.
When such insulation
is wet by a single event such as a roof leak or basement flood or when it is exposed to recurrent high interior moisture conditions, the growth of
problem mold is a real risk. If there are building occupant IAQ complaints, investigation of the insulation may be in order in this case.
Clean fiberglass insulation exposed to moldy air: I have found very high levels of mold contamination in otherwise apparently clean
fiberglass insulation in cases where the insulation has been exposed to high levels of moldy air.
Aspergillus sp. and on less frequent
occasions, Penicillium sp. or even basidiomycetes are found in insulation which may be rather new and which may appear perfectly clean to the
naked eye. A typical scenario producing this condition is the presence of un-protected, exposed fiberglass insulation in the ceiling of a basement where
there has been a significant mold contamination, perhaps even a mold remediation project. High airborne mold levels readily move small spores
such as those in the Aspergillus/Penicillium group through building insulation by ordinary indoor air and convection currents.
Mold Growth on Fiberglass HVAC Duct Interiors
Below: a photograph of white or light gray mold growth on the interior surface of a fiberglass-lined air duct.
While more investigation was required, we speculated that the Atlanta Georgia home where this duct mold was found had either suffered water or high moisture in the ductwork or there had been another source of high levels of Aspergillus, Penicillium, and perhaps other molds in the building's indoor air.
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any lawsuits or class action over HVAC insulating duct boards?
(Aug 26, 2014) Maggie said:
Are there any type of lawsuits for duct boards?
Insurance won't pay anything for the remediation of my home and I am at a loss on where to even start - no one seems to be able to tell me the source of my leak or what has caused the contamination or how long I've had the mold growth and I am now being told my whole house needs to be remediated because it's blown throughout the duct work for who knows how long and the levels are off the charts
I'm doubtful that lawsuits are the best place to start attacking the problem you describe. I'd start by hiring either an experienced building inspector or HVAC system technician to diagnose the problem you face, including its cause, providing evidence and documentation, not just "opinion" lest you get nowhere. If necessary you may need an independent insurance adjuster to help out.
From just your note we don't know what contamination is the concern, nor how we know what's been blown through the building, at what levels, and causing what need for further cleaning.
(Aug 26, 2014) Anonymous said:
Thanks Dan. I have actually had all the mold testing along with air samples done and that's how I know it's all throughout my house. I have the type of mold and the counts etc. The insurance adjuster is coming to see if there's any possibility of them paying for any of it - but they say there's slim to no chance of them paying for any of it and if they do it is a minimal amount of the cleanup.
I am in the process of getting estimates from 3 mold remediation companies and an estimate from a HVAC company for replacement of the duct board and/or whole system. I spoke to a real estate agent about "resale" values and the effect of mold in the home and he is actually the one who suggested researching if there were any lawsuits relating to duct boards since insurance doesn't pay for anything etc. I did a google search but came up with nothing. The cost is very prohibitive to wanting to get your house clean so it's all pretty discouraging.
If your HO policy excludes mold damage you're not covered.
WATCH OUT: DO NOT allow a superficial inexpert "cleanup" if in fact there is a large area of mold contamination - inexpert work may further spread contamination and require still more professional and costly cleanup. Before proceeding with cleanup you need a reliable mold remediation plan defining the scope of work, containment, etc.
(Aug 27, 2014) Maggie said:
Yes the insurance company came out today to do their inspection and nothing is covered. I have 4 companies coming tomorrow to provide me with quotes. Two of them work with insurance companies all the time and are supposed to be two of the top mold removal companies (Rainbow Intl and ServPro) the other is Advanta and the 4th is AAS Restoration. If you've heard of any of these companies and have any reviews or thoughts on them I would appreciate any feedback. I've read Angies list reviews and other online reviews and really haven't seen too many bad reviews on any of them.
I also had a duct cleaning service come in that was NADCA certified and they were telling me about some type of service that they spray and paint and the manufacturer of the product guarantees no new regrowth or old leaks of mold for 10 years. I'm guessing this would be the cheapest but not sure if it is the most effective. If you have an opinion on that too I would appreciate your input. ServPro also told me they use a different testing company because the mold inspection company I used tends to be very "over the top" with their recommendations. For instance because my readings on the 3rd floor were high they suggested having the whole house HEPA vaccumed. ServPro suggested the whole house may not require "total cleaning"
He stated some companies will then try to tell you you have to have absolutely everything cleaned or thrown away - like sheets, clothes and if you have a stuffed animal it would be thrown away. Tables could be cleaned but some furniture couldn't - so sometimes the "over the top" recommendations are not necessary and companies may try to get me to do more than necessary. Not sure if you have thoughts on that either but if I do the minimum cleaning - in other words replace duct work clean extremely high level areas with HEPA vaccuming etc. how much damage will I leave if I don't HEPA clean whole house. I of course realize these are all broad opinions on items that you are not seeing or reports you are reading. Thank.
Reply: "throw everything away" is usually inappropriate advice
I agree with your ServPro rep that "throw everything away" is usually inappropriate advice. Some items such as hard surface items are usually easily cleaned; some soft goods can be laundered or drycleaned. Other items such as water damaged carpets, padding, drywall, upholstered couches are tossed out.
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"Indoor Mold and Health,
A Fungus AmonG Us", Florida State Department of Health, Florida Department of Health
Division of Environmental Health
Bureau of Community Environmental Health
Radon and Indoor Toxics
4052 Bald Cypress Way, Bin A08
Tallahassee, FL 32311
1-800-543-8279, web search 08/05/2011, original source: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/community/indoor-air/Indoor_Mold_and_Health.pdf. Quoting:
The Florida Department of Health has developed this brochure to address some of the most
common questions and concerns about indoor mold, how it affects human health, and ways in
which you can prevent or remove it.
 Mark Cramer Inspection Services Mark Cramer, Tampa Florida, Mr. Cramer is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors and is a Florida home inspector and home inspection educator. Mr. Cramer serves on the ASHI Home Inspection Standards. Contact Mark Cramer at: 727-595-4211 mark@BestTampaInspector.com 11/06
 Ahearn, D.G., S A Crow, R B Simmons, D L Price, J A Noble, S K Mishra and D L Pierson, "Fungal colonization of fiberglass insulation in the air distribution system of a multi-story office building: VOC production and possible relationship to a sick building syndrome", Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology, Volume 16, Number 5 (1996), 280-285, DOI: 10.1007/BF01570035. Abstract:
Complaints characteristic of those for sick building syndrome prompted mycological investigations of a modern multi-story office building on the Gulf coast in the Southeastern United States (Houston-Galveston area). The air handling units and fiberglass duct liner of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system of the building, without a history of catastrophic or chronic water damage, demonstrated extensive colonization with Penicillium spp and Cladosporium herbarum. Although dense fungal growth was observed on surfaces within the heating-cooling system, most air samples yielded fewer than 200 CFU m–3. Several volatile compounds found in the building air were released also from colonized fiberglass. Removal of colonized insulation from the floor receiving the majority of complaints of mouldy air and continuous operation of the units supplying this floor resulted in a reduction in the number of complaints.
 Ahearn, D.G., S.A. Crow, R.B. Simmons, D.L. Price, S.K. Mishra and D.L. Pierson, "Fungal Colonization of Air Filters and Insulation in a Multi-Story Office Building: Production of Volatile Organics", Current Microbiology Volume 35, Number 5 (1997), 305-308, DOI: 10.1007/s002849900259, Abstract:
Secondary air filters in the air-handling units on four floors of a multi-story office building with a history of fungal colonization of insulation within the air distribution system were examined for the presence of growing fungi and production of volatile organic compounds. Fungal mycelium and conidia of Cladosporium and Penicillium spp. were observed on insulation from all floors and both sides of the air filters from one floor. Lower concentrations of volatile organics were released from air filter medium colonized with fungi as compared with noncolonized filter medium. However, the volatiles from the colonized filter medium included fungal metabolites such as acetone and a carbonyl sulfide-like compound that were not released from noncolonized filter medium. The growth of fungi in air distribution systems may affect the content of volatile organics in indoor air.
 Price,D. L., R. B. Simmons, I. M. Ezeonu, S. A. Crow and D. G. Ahearn, "Colonization of fiberglass insulation used in heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems", Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology Volume 13, Number 3 (1994), 154-158, DOI: 10.1007/BF01584000, Abstract: The number of fungal species colonizing thermal and acoustic fiberglass insulations used in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems was fewer than that obtained from initial direct culture of these insulations. The colonization, determined by the microscopic observation of conidiophores with conidia, was primarily of acrylic-latex-facing material, but eventually the fungi permeated the fiberglass matrix. Isolates of Aspergillus versicolor were most often obtained from non-challenged insulation, whereasAcremonium obclavatum appeared to be the primary colonizing fungus in high-humidity (>90%) challenge chambers. At a lower humidity (about 70%) Aspergillus flavus was one of the more prominent fungi. Not all duct liner samples were equally susceptible to colonization and duct board appeared relatively resistant to colonization.
 Simmons, R. B. and S. A. Crow, "Fungal colonization of air filters for use in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems", Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology Volume 14, Number 1 (1995), 41-45, DOI: 10.1007/BF01570065, Abstract:
New and used cellulosic air filters for HVAC systems including those treated with antimicrobials were suspended in vessels with a range of relative humidities (55–99%) and containing non-sterile potting soil which stimulates fungal growth. Most filters yielded fungi prior to suspension in the chambers but only two of 14 nontreated filters demonstrated fungal colonization following use in HVAC systems. Filters treated with antimicrobials, particularly a phosphated amine complex, demonstrated markedly less fungal colonization than nontreated filters. In comparison with nontreated cellulosic filters, fungal colonization of antimicrobial-treated cellulosic filters was selective and delayed.
 Ifeoma M. Ezeonu, Daniel L. Price, Sidney A. Crow and Donald G. Ahearn, "Effects of extracts of fiberglass insulations on the growth of Aspergillus fumigatus and A. versicolor", Mycopathologia Volume 132, Number 2 (1995), 65-69, DOI: 10.1007/BF01103777
Water extracts of thermal and acoustic fiberglass insulations used in the duct work of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems supported germination of conidia and growth of Aspergillus versicolor (Vuillemin) Tiraboschi 1908–9 and Aspergillus fumigatus Fresenius 1863. Urea, formaldehyde and unidentified organics were detected in the extracts. Formaldehyde in concentrations similar to those found in the extracts restricted the growth of both species in enriched media. A. versicolor, the more common species associated with fiberglass insulations, was more resistant to formaldehyde than A. fumigatus.
Books & Articles on Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, & Repair
Kansas State University, department of plant pathology, extension plant pathology web page on wheat rust fungus: see http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/path-ext/factSheets/Wheat/Wheat%20Leaf%20Rust.asp
"A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home",
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency US EPA - includes basic advice for building owners, occupants, and mold cleanup operations. See http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.htm
US EPA - Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Building [ copy on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Mold_Remediation_in_Schools.pdf ] - US EPA
US EPA - Una Breva Guia a Moho - Hongo [on file as /sickhouse/EPA_Moho_Guia_sp.pdf - - en Espanol
Fiberglass in buildings: hazards, testing, cleanup, prevention: references & products
For more information about fiberglass as an indoor air quality concern see:
Asbestos: How to find and recognize asbestos in buildings - visual inspection methods, list of common asbestos-containing materials (Asbestos is not fiberglass and vice versa).
BASEMENT MOLD includes examples of moldy fiberglass insulation found in basements
CRAWLSPACE MOLD includes additional examples of moldy fiberglass insulation found in
LAB IDENTIFICATION OF FIBERGLASS photographs and text assist in laboratory identification of fiberglass fibers and fragments in air, dust, or material samples in the laboratory using forensic microscopic techniques.
Mold in Fiberglass building insulation, when, why, and how fiberglass becomes a reservoir of problem mold in buildings.
Fiberglass carcinogenicity: "Glass Wool Fibers Expert Panel Report, Part B - Recommendation for Listing Status for Glass Wool Fibers and Scientific Justification for the Recommendation", The Report on Carcinogens (RoC) expert panel for glass wool fibers exposures met at the Sheraton Chapel Hill Hotel, Chapel Hill, North Carolina on June 9-10, 2009, to peer review the draft background document on glass wool fibers exposures and make a recommendation for listing status in the 12th Edition of the RoC. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is one of the National Institutes of Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The National Toxicology Program is headquartered on the NIEHS campus in Research Triangle Park, NC. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is one of the National Institutes of Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The National Toxicology Program is headquartered on the NIEHS campus in Research Triangle Park, NC.
Following a discussion of the body of knowledge, the expert panel reviewed the RoC listing criteria and made its recommendation. The expert panel recommended by a vote of 8 yes/0 no that glass wool fibers, with the exception of special fibers of concern (characterized physically below), should not be classified either as known to be a human carcinogen or reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen. The expert panel also recommended by a vote of 7 yes/0 no/1 abstention, based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in well-conducted animal inhalation studies, that special-purpose glass fibers with the physical characteristics as follows longer, thinner, less soluble fibers (for 1 example, > 15 μm length with a kdis of < 100 ng/cm2/h) are reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen for the listing status in the RoC. The major considerations discussed that led the panel to its recommendation include the observations of tumors in multiple species of animals (rats and hamsters). Both inhalation and intraperitoneal routes of exposure produced tumors, although inhalation was considered more relevant for humans.
Fiberglass insulation mold: occurrence of mold contamination in fiberglass insulation can be impossible to see with the naked eye, but can be significant
World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer - IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans - VOL 81 Man-Made Vitreous Fibers, 2002, IARCPress, Lyon France, pi-ii-cover-isbn.qxd 06/12/02 14:15 Page i - World Health Organization, 1/21/1998. - Fiberglass insulation is an example of what IARC refers to as man made vitreous fiber - inorganic fibers made primarily from glass, rock, minerals, slag, and processed inorganic oxides. This article provides enormous detail about fiberglass and other vitreous fibers, and includes fiberglass exposure data.
http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol81/mono81.pdf - the article (large PDF over 6MB)
http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol81/mono81-6A.pdf - article details
http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol81/mono81-6C.pdf - studies of cancer in experimental animals in re vitreous fibers such as fiberglass;
http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol81/mono81-6E.pdf - summary of data reported & evaluation
http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol81/mono81-6F.pdf for the article references
To search the IARC monographs on various environmental concerns and carcinogens, use http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/PDFs/index.php
Carson, Dunlop & Associates Ltd., 120 Carlton Street Suite 407, Toronto ON M5A 4K2. Tel: (416) 964-9415 1-800-268-7070 Email: email@example.com. The firm provides professional home inspection services & home inspection education & publications. Alan Carson is a past president of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thanks to Alan Carson and Bob Dunlop, for permission for InspectAPedia to use text excerpts from The Home Reference Book & illustrations from The Illustrated Home. Carson Dunlop Associates' provides extensive home inspection education and report writing material.
The Illustrated Home illustrates construction details and building components, a reference for owners & inspectors. Special Offer: For a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Illustrated Home purchased as a single order Enter INSPECTAILL in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
TECHNICAL REFERENCE GUIDE to manufacturer's model and serial number information for heating and cooling equipment, useful for determining the age of heating boilers, furnaces, water heaters is provided by Carson Dunlop, Associates, Toronto - Carson Dunlop Weldon & Associates Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on any number of copies of the Technical Reference Guide purchased as a single order. Just enter INSPECTATRG in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space.
The Home Reference Book - the Encyclopedia of Homes, Carson Dunlop & Associates, Toronto, Ontario, 25th Ed., 2012, is a bound volume of more than 450 illustrated pages that assist home inspectors and home owners in the inspection and detection of problems on buildings. The text is intended as a reference guide to help building owners operate and maintain their home effectively. Field inspection worksheets are included at the back of the volume.
Special Offer: For a 10% discount on any number of copies of the Home Reference Book purchased as a single order. Enter INSPECTAHRB in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
Special Offer: Carson Dunlop Associates offers InspectAPedia readers in the U.S.A. a 5% discount on these courses: Enter INSPECTAHITP in the order payment page "Promo/Redemption" space. InspectAPedia.com editor Daniel Friedman is a contributing author.
The Horizon Software System manages business operations,scheduling, & inspection report writing using Carson Dunlop's knowledge base & color images. The Horizon system runs on always-available cloud-based software for office computers, laptops, tablets, iPad, Android, & other smartphones