Building owners and managers are becoming more concerned with the role that duct leakage plays in the spread of a respiratory disease. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, Environmental Protection Agency, duct leakage can be a major contributor to health risks associated with poor indoor air quality. Leaks in the ductwork allow contaminants to enter the HVAC system at one location within a structure and then spread throughout the rest of the building.

Neal Walsh, senior vice president at HVAC construction technology company Aeroseal LLC, said that HVAC market businesses have experienced an increase in customer inquiries since the summer 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in New York City and indoor air quality in general.

“We have heard from a number of our East Coast dealers that are responding to an uptick in calls from commercial clients that are concerned about the recent epidemic,” Walsh said. “They are learning that the microbes responsible for Legionnaires’ disease are typically spread through a contaminated indoor air environment, and that has led them directly to concerns about duct leakage.”

The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease is typically spread through a building’s ventilation system. In the recent New York City epidemic, it was traced to contaminated cooling towers, which release water mist. It is likely that the contaminated water mist spread throughout the atmosphere with the assistance of leaky ventilation systems, and then was inhaled by occupants, according to several reports.

“It’s estimated that poor indoor air quality costs businesses as much as $100 billion a year in lost productivity, health costs and other related problems,” Walsh said. “Poor indoor air quality can cause everything from headaches, coughing and skin irritation to more serious health concerns such as what we’re seeing in New York.”

Since it first appeared in late July, more than 100 people have been diagnosed with the disease and a dozen died.

To help minimize health risks associated with poor indoor air quality, many health organizations recommend sealing ductwork. While some leaks can be addressed using traditional duct sealing methods, Aeroseal says that the most efficient and cost-effective means of sealing ductwork is with the use of aerosol-based technology.

“We are working hard to educate the public about the problems associated with poor indoor air quality and the role that duct leaks play in exacerbating the problem,” Walsh said. “The recent Legionnaires’ outbreak is a reminder of how easily airborne diseases can spread and put us all at risk.”