I am very interested by your post. We recently had a lead inspection on our property and one thing the lead inspector suggested was to get the air ducts cleaned out. We had our ducts cleaned last year after we under went a large renovation project (since we have a toddler in the house). This year we decided to go for lead compliance and had all our lead removed (we moved out for the work). Recently, my son had a false positive lead test, which prompted us to get a lead dust inspection around the house (including having the vents dust-wiped on the inside). The levels inside the ducts weren't crazy high (but more than would be acceptable for a floor). As it turned out my son's lead levels are very low (but not zero). Is it possible however that lead dust from the inside of a vent can come out? Would this be a scenario where you think air duct cleaning would be beneficial?
I have worked cleaning HVAC in my area for almost 5 years. I always do a thorough inspection and cleaning, providing before and after photos. I have completed some jobs where I felt that it was not entirely necessary, but ultimately what the customer wanted. With that being said, I have endless photos of unspeakable horrors. Hotels are usually nasty, post construction mess is certain, pets and kids create lots off debris, bugs congregate and die, then spiders set up and die, I have even had one supply that was nearly plugged with sand!
A thorough visual inspection is the best way to verify the cleanliness of your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with the naked eye. Show the Post-Cleaning Consumer Checklist to the service provider before the work begins. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed satisfactorily.
The next step was cleaning the cold air returns. He found a good spot to drill an 8” hole for his vacuum hose. The procedure matched the other air ducts except that when he finished at the two cold return registers he drilled several holes in the cold ducts in the basement and blasted air into them. Because of our houses age and the upgraded return system, I noticed that the main sheet metal return duct had no top but was just butted up against the ceiling in the basement. When he blasted air in, dust and crap shot out the edges along the ceiling. Once he finished that he removed the filter and “swept” out anything at the bottom of the return with his hand into the 8” hose.
I to had an odd layer of white'ish dust building up especially during seasonal periods when the HVAC ran a a lot. I carefully swept up the fine dust into a small pile and had it analyzed. Turns out it was very fine fiberglass powder dust. It turns out it is the insulation form the attic! (My attic has blown in insulation). Turns out if you (I) had small gaps around my HVAC registers in the ceiling whee the airs blows into the room. What occurred in my case was that the exiting air at that seam creates a vacuum effect at the grate vent cover and draws and then blows fine insulation dust from the attic into the house. Removing each register grate and sealing each tin outlet gap with calking between the dry wall ceiling and tin fixed the issue. A couple were so bad with bowed gaps I had to screw down the bowed tin to the attaching stud better. Checking the very same glass top desk that catches and shows any dust accumulation now shows only very small amounts of normal house dust build up over several weeks. A big, big improvement. You might have a look by simply removing a couple vent covers yourself.

Since most states and municipalities don’t license air duct cleaners, you need to check their professional credentials instead, such as NADCA membership. EPA recommends all duct cleaners follow NADCA standards. Member companies must keep at least one technician on staff who has passed a NADCA test. “They have to pass rigorous testing to earn the certificate, and our code of ethics is very important,” Vinick says.
If not properly installed, maintained and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high-powered vacuum cleaner.