mother and child on couch readingCommon Sources of Indoor Air Quality Problems


Asbestos is a mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. 

It is strong and resists heat so it has been used in building materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. When materials with asbestos are damaged they can release asbestos fibers. This includes things like ceiling and floor tiles, pipe insulation, and others.

Health Concerns

Exposure to asbestos may increase your risk for lung disease and cancer.

How to Stay Safe

Asbestos is only a danger it if is damaged and crumbly, or is in dust form. Not all building materials contain asbestos. The only way to know is to test. For information on testing, contact the Wisconsin State Occupational Health Lab at (608) 224-6210.

More Information

Carbon Monoxide or other Combustion Products

Burning natural gas, fuel oil, wood, and other fuels creates carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide and other air pollutants.

Health Concerns

  • Carbon monoxide is a gas with no color or odor. It causes headaches, nausea, and sleepiness. It can cause sudden illness and can be deadly when you are exposed to high levels.
  • Nitrogen dioxide irritates your lungs and air passages. It can make asthma and allergies worse.
  • Depending on the fuel burned, other pollutants may be produced that have a wide range of health effects.

How to Stay Safe

  • Make sure all combustion appliances (stove, furnace, water heater, fireplace, grills, etc.) are vented to the outside and work properly. Have your furnace inspected once a year to make sure it works properly.
  • Put carbon monoxide detectors in your home and make sure they work. Wisconsin State law requires them.
  • Don't run your car or other gas-powered equipment in a garage or enclosed spaces.
  • Never use unvented combustion appliances indoors.

Call 911 or your utility provider if:

  • Your carbon monoxide detector goes off
  • You or a family member has carbon monoxide symptoms
More Information

Household Chemicals (cleaners, disinfectants, pesticides)

Using every day household cleaners and chemicals can create poor indoor air quality.

Health Concerns

Depending on the chemical involved, a wide range of health effects may occur from improper use, overuse or storage of these chemicals.

How to Stay Safe

  • Follow directions carefully when using or storing.
  • Use only the amount you need to get the job done. More is not always better.
  • Buy only what you need. Extra chemicals can create 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.
  • Throw away and recycle chemicals safely. Get information from Hazardous Materials / Clean Sweep.

Mold, Dust and Biological Contaminants

Dust, mold, and other biological contaminants are in most homes and in many cases are not considered dangerous. 

But there can be health problems, depending on

  • The types of dust or mold
  • If contamination is high
  • Your health

Health Concerns

  • People with asthma and allergies may have allergy or asthma attacks when exposed to certain types of dust or mold, and other biological contaminants.
  • People without asthma and allergies may experience eye, nose, or throat irritation when exposed to high levels of dust, mold, or other contaminants.
More Information

Check out the resources below for information on mold and health effects, mold clean-up and prevention of mold. 

  • Mold Information, WI Department of Health Services

    • Includes a list of contractors who can help you with moisture, air quality, and mold issues in your home
  • Mold Information, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that has no odor or taste. It occurs naturally in the ground.

Health Concerns

Radon causes lung cancer and is found in many homes throughout Wisconsin and Dane County.

How to Stay Safe

  • Testing is the only way to know if you have radon in your home. Hardware and home stores sell low-cost radon test kits (usually under $25). We also sell kits for $10 each (see below).
  • If testing shows a radon problem, you will need to install a system that will prevent radon from building up in your home. The system should be installed by a certified mitigation contractor.
  • Radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. Radon reduction systems can be built into new homes.
More Information
  • Call the South-Central Radon Information Center at (608) 243-0392
  • Buy a test kit at one of our offices, Monday - Friday.
    • The Atrium - 2300 S. Park St., Suite 2010, Madison, 7:45am - 4:30pm
    • City County Building - 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Rm. 507, 7:45am - 4:30pm
    • East Washington Avenue Office - 2705 E. Washington Ave., Madison, 8:30am - 4:30pm 
  • Radon Information, WI Department of Health Services
  • Radon Information, US Environmental Protection Agency

Secondhand Smoke

Burning tobacco products causes secondhand smoke.

Health Concerns

Secondhand smoke causes cancer, and eye and throat irritations.

How to Stay Safe

  • Don't allow smoking in your home or your car.
  • All Wisconsin workplaces are covered by a smoke-free workplace law. This includes restaurants, taverns, bars, and bowling centers. Report a violation or learn more about the law.