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Outdoor Air Quality

Current air quality

Madison and Dane County continue to meet federal air quality standards and a majority of days with “good” quality air. However, levels of ozone and fine particulate matter are just below these standards. In 2009, there were 10 days where fine particulate matter made the air “unhealthy for sensitive populations” (e.g. children, the elderly, those with respiratory or cardiovascular disease).

Outdoor air quality information for older adults, see:

The Department of Natural Resources continues to be the agency responsible for monitoring and responding to outdoor air complaints. All outdoor air problems are handled by Department of Natural Resources - Air Management at (608) 273-5604.

Human impacts of air pollutants

Indoor and outdoor air contaminants as contributing causes of asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and cardiovascular diseases.

Asthma continues to be a problem for Dane County residents:
  • The percentage of life time or current asthma prevalence in Dane County is slightly higher than state averages. However, age-adjusted asthma hospitalizations rates for the county are below the state rates.
  • School districts in Dane County have reported that in the 2006-2007 school year 7% to 15% of their students enrolled had asthma.
  • Older adults are also at greater risk for experiencing health effects due to poor air quality. Hospitalization data for Dane County shows an increasing trend for older adults to be hospitalized for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes bronchitis and asthma.
  • Other lung diseases and cancer are related to poor air quality.

Sources of air pollutants

  • Cars and trucks that operate on roads and highways are the primary source of air pollutants in Dane County. In particular, the production of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and volatile organic chemicals (VOC), which lead to ozone formation in hot, sunny weather. This is significant source because of the number that are in use on our roads. This will continue to increase as the communities in Dane County continue to grow.

  • Industries in Dane county are an important source of toxic air pollutants. Over the past decade, the amount of toxic air pollutants has decreased dramatically. Most of this change has been observed in Dane County communities outside Madison.

  • Light duty gasoline vehicles (cars and small trucks), heavy-duty gasoline vehicles (full size pick-up and delivery trucks) and heavy-duty diesel vehicles (buses, semi-tractors and dump trucks) also produce toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and 1,3-butadiene.

  • Wood burning stoves and fireplaces are an important contributor to indoor and outdoor air pollution. The smoke generated from the burning wood is made up of a complex mixture of potentially harmful components including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and fine particulates (PM 2.5). Exposure to wood smoke can impact the health of family members residing in your home and neighbors downwind, as well as degrade the air quality of our community, if the wood is not burned properly.

  • Air pollutants emitted from sources outside of Dane County also affect our air quality. Many air pollutants can travel long distances and cause ozone or fine particulate problems in areas with limited sources of air pollution.

Actions to improve air quality

  1. Whenever possible: walk, bike, skate, bus or car pool instead of driving your vehicle.
  2. Purchase fuel-efficient vehicles.
  3. Practice energy conservation and home and work.
  4. Purchase renewable energy from you utility and use other clean energy alternatives when available.
  5. Use Green Building techniques when building and remodeling your home or business to conserve energy and reduce exposure to toxic chemicals.
  6. Install solar energy on your home or business and make your own electricity and hot water.
Key Contacts
Wisconsin State Occupational Health Lab: (608) 224-6210

(608) 266-4821
Email: Public Health