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Specific indoor air quality problems

wood burning and air pollution

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. However, there are several precautions that can be taken that can decrease the emissions produced from wood burners and fireplaces that will reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution, and protect your health and the health of your family and neighbors.

A list of these precautions and additional information, including prevention, is provided below:

Public Health Madison & Dane County partners with the Dane County Clean Air Coalition and the Dane County Asthma Coalition to improve air quality in Dane County Communities.


Asbestos fibers can be released from damaged asbestos-containing materials such as ceiling tiles, floor tiles, pipe insulation, and many others. Exposure to asbestos may increase a person's risk for lung disease including cancer. If you think you might have a problem with asbestos, consider the following:

Is It Asbestos?
  • Because not all varieties of the materials mentioned above contain asbestos, testing is necessary to be sure you are dealing with asbestos.
  • For more information on testing, contact the Wisconsin State Occupational Health Lab at (608) 224-6210.

What is the Condition of the Material?
  • Asbestos is only an immediate hazard it if is damaged and friable or is in dust form.

What Type of Material Are You Working With?
  • Some asbestos-containing building materials are more hazardous than others due to their friability.

Mesothelioma Cancer Resources


Radon is considered to be the second leading cause of lung cancer and has been found in many Wisconsin homes. In fact, radon was found in 20% of a random sample of Dane County homes in 1994. Other than lung cancer, there are no other known health effects from exposure to radon.

The only way to know if you are exposed to radon in your home is to test. Tests cost about $20 to $30 and are readily available from your local hardware or home store. You will also find testing and abatement services listed under "Radon" in your Yellow Pages.

Carbon Monoxide or Other Combustion Products

Burning natural gas, fuel oil, wood, and other fuels generate carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and various other air pollutants. Carbon monoxide causes headache, nausea, and drowsiness. It is lethal when a person is exposed to high levels. Nitrogen dioxide will irritate the lungs and air passages, which may make existing respiratory illnesses (asthma, allergy, etc.) worse. Depending on the fuel burned, any other pollutants may be produced that have a wide range of health effects. To protect you and your family:

  • Ensure that all combustion appliances (stove, furnace, water heater, fireplace grills, etc.) are vented to the outside and operating properly. Furnaces should be inspected once a year to make sure they are working properly. Contact your utility provider or a heating contractor for service.
  • Install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
  • Do not operate your car or ay other gas-powered equipment within a garage or other enclosed space.
  • Never use unvented combustion appliances indoors.

If you or a family member is experiencing carbon monoxide symptoms, leave the home and call 911 for assistance from your local Fire Department or contact your utility provider.

Dust, Mold & Biological Contaminants

Dust, mold, and other biological contaminants are present in most homes and, in many cases, are not at present a health hazard. However, depending on the types of dust or mold and the health status of the individuals in the home, these items can cause significant health concerns. Asthma and allergy sufferers may experience allergic symptoms or asthma attacks when exposed to animal dander, specific mold spores, or many other pollutants. Even persons without pre-existing medical conditions may experience eyes, nose or throat irritation when exposed to high levels of dust, mold, or other contaminants. To reduce the potential for adverse health effects from exposure to these items:

Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Environmental tobacco smoke, also known as passive or second-hand smoke, is a known carcinogen that has been linked to lung cancer and cancers of the nasal sinuses. To reduce your family's cancer risks from this pollutant, prohibit smoking in your home or car. When possible, choose smoke-free establishments when eating out. Madison is working hard to increase the number of smoke-free locations in the City.

Refer also to smoking regulations in Smoke Free & Tobacco Control.

Household Chemicals (cleaners, disinfectants, pesticides)

Household cleaners and solvents can be an insidious source of indoor air quality. Depending on the chemical involved, a wide range of health effects may occur from improper use, over use or storage of these chemicals. To protect your family:

  • Follow label directions carefully when using or storing the chemical.
  • Use only the amount of chemical that you need to accomplish the job. More is not always better.
  • Purchase only what you need. Extra chemicals only presents potential storage and spill problems.
  • Look for the least toxic product that will do the job.
  • Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to help control pests in and around your home. For more information, contact the UW Extension.
  • Dispose or recycle chemicals appropriately. For more information, please view Hazardous Materials / Clean Sweep.
Key Contacts
Wisconsin State Occupational Health Lab: (608) 224-6210

(608) 266-4821
Email: Public Health

Clean Sweep