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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). 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.

Details on these precautions and additional information, including prevention, are provided below:

Public Health Madison & Dane County partners with 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 (crumbly) 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.


Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is an odorless, tasteless, invisible, radioactive gas that is found throughout Wisconsin. Testing is the only way to know if radon is a problem in your home. Radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. Radon resistant construction features can even be built into a new home.

Additional information regarding radon and low cost test kits are available through the South-Central Radon Information Center at (608) 243-0392.

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, 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 any 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 considered a health hazard. However, depending on the types of dust or mold, the levels of contamination, and 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:

  • Identify and correct any moisture problems in your home. Excessive moisture promotes mold growth. For a directory of contractors who can help you address moisture, air quality, mold, and energy issues in your home, see these PDFs.

  • If possible, identify and correct sources of odor or dust before investing in air cleaning machines.

  • Mastering Mold in Your Home or Workplace:

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 and your car. Madison and all of Wisconsin workplaces including restaurants, taverns/bars, and bowling centers are covered by a smoke-free workplace law.

For information on the smoke free law covering workplaces (restaurants and bars, etc.), see Smoke Free & Tobacco Control.

Household Chemicals (cleaners, disinfectants, pesticides)

Household cleaners and solvents can be a subtle but harmful source of poor 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 present 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, see the web page for UW Extension.
  • Dispose or recycle chemicals appropriately and responsibly. For more information, please see Hazardous Materials / Clean Sweep.
Key Contacts
Wisconsin State Occupational Health Lab: (608) 224-6210

(608) 266-4821
Email: Public Health

Clean Sweep