FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 18, 2014) -- Late summer and early fall in central Virginia offer many opportunities for fun and adventure both indoors and outdoors, but for many it can be a challenge to enjoy. Allergens abound during this change of seasons and mold is a constant companion in our area. Learning to deal with these properly when indoors can be key to living healthy and comfortably.

First, let me explain what mold is. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines mold as a fungal growth that forms and spreads on various kinds of damp or decaying organic matter. Molds are found indoors and outdoors in all climates during all seasons of the year but they grow best in warm, damp humid environments. There are thousands of species in a wide variety of colors and they have been part of our environment for thousands of years; so, they are certainly not new or unique to our indoor spaces as recent media attention might imply. It is important to understand there are no indoor spaces completely free of mold, not even surgical operating rooms.

Where molds feed on damp decomposing organic matter outdoors in the natural environment; indoors they will grow on wood, ceiling tiles, wallpaper, paints, carpet, sheet rock and insulation. A leaky roof, high humidity, or flooding in combination with moderate temperatures provide the perfect conditions for molds to grow indoors. With that said, controlling moisture in the indoor environment is key to controlling mold growth.

If you suspect mold in your home or workplace, how do you test for them? Routine sampling for mold is not recommended by most authorities because knowing what species of mold you have is just not necessary or important to know with regard to fixing the problem. Not only is it very expensive to have samples analyzed at a lab, but no standards have been established to regulate our exposures to molds. Suffice it to say, if you smell or see mold, there is a potential health risk and risk of expensive damages to facilities. In either case, you need to arrange for its removal and repair as early as possible. The following are some tips for dealing with suspected mold problems:

• Regularly inspect facilities and homes even when the space has not been occupied. Determine if there are any leaks or other moisture problems and take appropriate measures to correct the issue or report it to your facility manager or supervisor immediately for their action.

• If other indoor air quality issues such as high humidity, uncomfortable temperatures, unpleasant odors or stagnant air are suspected, report these to your facility manager or supervisor for action or call a service technician to determine if the heating, ventilation, or air conditioning system is functioning properly.

• Dry any wet conditions that may occur indoors within 48 hours to prevent mold growth.

• Ensure windows and exterior doors remain closed whenever HVAC systems are in use.

• Ensure air filters are replaced regularly.

• Do not block air vents or grilles. Clean dust from vents and grilles.

• Keep areas clean.

• Water and maintain plants properly.

• Dispose of garbage promptly and properly.

• Store food properly.

• Avoid bringing products to work or into the home that can release harmful or bothersome odors or contaminants.

• See a health care provider if persistent or worsening respiratory symptoms develop that you feel may be tied to where you work or live.

Molds are spread by producing tiny spores that float through the air so cleaning methods should be restricted to wet processes; make a plan. Sweeping and vacuuming (unless using a HEPA filtration system) are not recommended. There are several internet sites available that provide expert advice on handling clean-up and proper remediation. Visit www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html or www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html for more information.

So, don’t be afraid of black mold, you just need to know how to handle it. Arm yourself with knowledge and enjoy all the seasons, inside and outside.