Region 1: EPA New England

Indoor Air Quality

First and secondhand smoke

Photo of an ashtray.

First and secondhand smoke comes from a burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe, or from an exhaling smoker. Not only is secondhand smoke an asthma trigger but those exposed to it tend to have more ear and respiratory infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia, respiratory and ear infections. EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S. About 800 of these are estimated to be from exposure to secondhand smoke at home, and 2,200 deaths are from exposure in work or social situations. Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung and heart disease. In addition, smokers, and former smokers, EPA estimates that secondhand smoke is responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmokers in the U.S. are at greater respiratory risk from other exposures such as asbestos and radon. Smoking also is associated with an increased risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Consider quitting smoking today!

Action you can take:

  • Take the smoke-free pledge.
  • Choose not to smoke in your home and do not permit others to do so. Small children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of secondhand smoke.
  • Choose to smoke outside, if you must smoke. Moving to another room or opening a window is not enough to protect your children.

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Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into your home through cracks or holes in the basement walls and floor. Radon gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Much of the New England region has elevated levels of radon due to high amounts of granite bedrock. Risk depends on how much and how long you have been exposed to radon gas, which is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

Action you can take:

Test your home for radon. Radon test kits are available at hardware stores. If the level exceeds the standard, have a professional help you design a plan to vent the gas to the outside. Look in the phone book under "radon" for professionals in your area. While radon test kits are available at hardware stores, they also can be purchased through the National Safety Council at a discounted rate. For information on these discounted test kits go to and look for the link to the discounted test kits.

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Carbon monoxide (CO)

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by incomplete burning of fuels such as gas, oil, propane or wood. People with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially sensitive to CO exposure. Depending on the level and length of exposure, carbon monoxide can cause shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, dizziness, impairment of vision and coordination, mental confusion, fainting or even death.

Action you can take:
To prevent CO poisoning:

  • Make sure your heating systems, gas or propane stoves, ovens, and dryers are well-vented and in proper working order.
  • Don’t idle your car or lawnmower or other gasoline-powered equipment in the garage.
  • Don’t use propane heaters or candles inside of tents. indoor air quality
  • When the power goes out, be careful with generators and avoid unconventional heating and cooking methods.
  • Put CO monitors/alarms that meet UL (Underwriters Laboratories), IAS (International Approval Service) standards in sleeping areas and basements.
  • Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.

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Organic vapors or volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Photo of spray paint cans.

Organic vapors or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in many household products, including: paints; paint strippers and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; and drycleaned clothing. VOCs vary in their potential to affect health. Possible health effects of exposure include: irritation to eyes, nose and throat; damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system; and cancer.

Action you can take:

Look for safer alternatives and choose environmentally friendly products. If you must use products with VOCs, reduce your exposure by ventilating work areas and buying only the amount of product that you need. Take care to dispose of any unused products as directed and in a safe manner (for example, take advantage of municipal household hazardouswaste collection days).

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Mold thrives in moist environments. Mold spores, which are found almost everywhere in our environment, need moisture to germinate. If mold spores from the air land on a wet surface in your home, they may just need a day or two to grow. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory complaints. For more information on mold, go to:

Action you can take:
The key to controlling mold problems in your home is to control moisture! Fix leaks. Dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours. Reduce indoor humidity (to 30%-60% ) by:

  • venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside
  • using air conditioners and dehumidifiers. increasing ventilation
  • using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning

If mold is in your home, killing it with bleach or cleaner is not enough. The mold itself has to be removed.

Action you can take:

To remove mold from hard surfaces, scrub it with a detergent cleaner and water. Be sure to wear safety gear such as goggles, gloves and a mask. After removing the mold, take care to dry the surface completely! Certain mold-damaged, non-washable items may have to be thrown away or treated by a specialist. For more information, go to

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