Calls come in steadily to Oregon State University Extension this time of year from people who don't know what to do when they find mold on the back wall of a closet or under the bathroom sink.
Mold grows on damp surfaces and can cause permanent damage to walls, window frames, carpets, clothes and furniture, said Jeanne Brandt, an OSU Extension specialist. "It looks dirty and smells bad."
Oregon State University Extension's 2011 Healthy Homes Campaign has information on:
Radon. A colorless, odorless gas, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency; smoking is the first. The EPA recommends that all homes be tested. More information is at www.epa.gov/radon/
Lead poisoning. Exposure to lead causes health problems, especially for young children. Free tests are available at the Lead Line or by calling 800-368-5060 or 503-988-4000. For more information see: www.epa.gov/lead/pubs/brochure.htm
Well-water testing. Annual tests are recommended. The OSU Extension Well Water Program has information on wells and septic systems: http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu
Worse yet, exposure to mold can bring on allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory problems, especially for young children, the elderly or pregnant women.
Information found on the Internet about mold removal can be inaccurate or extreme, warned Brandt.
"Sometimes when we take calls, we just try to calm people who are worried about health hazards and cost of cleanup," she said.
Spores are always in the air, and when they grow on moist surfaces, they become black, brown or white and look like a furry stain, said Brandt. "The key to mold control is moisture control; it's important to keep walls, floors, clothing and possessions dry and clean."
Her advice: "Protect yourself as you clean; wear gloves and open windows. Use a stiff brush and hot, soapy water. Dry the area."
With no practical way to eliminate all mold and spores indoors, it's important to clean and fix sources of moisture, such as leaky pipes and roofs. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends taking steps to reduce indoor humidity to 30 to 60 percent; vent bathrooms and dryers to the outside; use air conditioners and dehumidifiers; and use exhaust fans when cooking, cleaning and washing dishes.
Simpler recommendations are to keep walls, floors, clothing and possessions clean and dry and keep air moving through the house. Leave dirty shoes and boots outside and don't leave wet clothes or towels lying around. Leave closet doors open and keep furniture and stored items away from walls. Don't close off rooms.
Find more EPA information on moisture and mold at www.epa.gov/mold/.
For checklists and resources on mold and indoor air quality see the OSU Family and Community Health website at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/fch/healthy-homes/mold-indoor-air-quality.