Characterization and Control of the Microbial Community Affiliated with Copper or Aluminum Heat Exchangers of HVAC Systems
Microbial growth in heating ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems with the subsequent contamination of indoor air is of increasing concern. Microbes and the subsequent biofilms grow easily within heat exchangers. A comparative study where heat exchangers fabricated from antimicrobial copper were evaluated for their ability to limit microbial growth was conducted using a full-scale HVAC system under conditions of normal flow rates using single-pass outside air. Resident bacterial and fungal populations were quantitatively assessed by removing triplicate sets of coupons from each exchanger commencing the fourth week after their installation for the next 30 weeks. The intrinsic biofilm associated with each coupon was extracted and characterized using selective and differential media. The predominant organisms isolated from aluminum exchangers were species of Methylobacterium of which at least three colony morphologies and 11 distinct PFGE patterns we found; of the few bacteria isolated from the copper exchangers, the majority were species of Bacillus. The concentrations and type of bacteria recovered from the control, aluminum, exchangers were found to be dependent on the type of plating media used and were 11,411–47,257 CFU cm−2 per coupon surface. The concentration of fungi was found to average 378 CFU cm−2. Significantly lower concentrations of bacteria, 3 CFU cm−2, and fungi, 1 CFU cm−2, were recovered from copper exchangers regardless of the plating media used. Commonly used aluminum heat exchangers developed stable, mixed, bacterial/fungal biofilms in excess of 47,000 organisms per cm2 within 4 weeks of operation, whereas the antimicrobial properties of metallic copper were able to limit the microbial load affiliated with the copper heat exchangers to levels 99.97 % lower during the same time period.