A rather unusual and noteworthy development has taken place in the usually placid world of hvac ductwork - one that could have a far-reaching and beneficial impact on a very large industry.

Displayed with few details at this year's AHR Expo in Atlanta, United McGill said it is now aggressively pursuing - along with a huge national steelmaker and chemical company - a move to coat the inside of steel ductwork with an antimicrobial agent called "AgIon." The product name is trademarked and belongs to the chemical company of the same name, AgIon Technologies of Hartford, Conn. The name comes from the atomic symbol for silver, which is Ag, and describes the process by which ions from the silver separate, attack and kill microbes as they come into contact with it.

It would be the first large-scale use of an antimicrobial agent in ductwork, although use of antimicrobials such as AgIon has spread rapidly to include use in soaps, paint, carpeting, air filters, bedding, refrigerator shelving, clothing, door knobs and tennis shoes.

A meeting describing the exact nature of the agreement took place at the end of March in Atlanta, near the home of Pacesetter Steel Service Inc. in Kennesaw, which will be the first supplier of this type of coated steel for use in ductwork. The steel supplier is AK Steel.

Wayne Custer, vice president, McGill AirFlow, said his company will begin producing the coated ductwork soon, but quantities hinge in part on how quickly it is specified by consulting engineers since it is an entirely new product. Likely first applications will be in buildings such as hospitals and schools.

AK Steel of Middletown, Ohio, claims to be the industry leader in production of flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steels for use in automotive, appliance, construction and manufacturing markets. The company also produces standard pipe and tubular steel products. It is a Fortune 500 company with $4.5 billion in sales and 2000 operating profit of $338 million. It employs 11,500 men and women at major steelmaking plants and offices in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.