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Region 1: EPA New England

Indoor air quality

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

Photo of a couple.This respiratory illness primarily affects people over age 45 and has no known cure. COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is a serious health threat for New Englanders and likely affects as many as 24 million Americans nationally. Chronic coughing, chest tightness and breathlessness of COPD make everyday activities diffi cult because even simple actions put too much strain on damaged lungs. The best way to prevent COPD is to avoid smoking. While smoking is the primary cause of COPD, air pollution can play a signifi cant role in both causing the disease and making it worse. Air pollution irritates the lungs and contributes to the total overall burden. Individuals with respiratory diseases like COPD are especially sensitive to air pollution. Exposure to air pollution may aggravate symptoms and make it diffi cult to breathe. Exhaust from cars, trucks, and power plants reacts with sunlight on hot summer days to create ozone and emit tiny or fi ne particles, both of which contribute to air pollution or smog. Air quality in New England is closely tied to temperature and precipitation - the hotter and drier the summer, the higher the concentration of regional pollutants. People who are living with COPD need to pay careful attention to the air quality. When levels of pollution are unhealthy, slow down your activities and consider postponing outdoor activities. Throughout the summer, listen for radio or television announcements by meteorologists about "Ozone Action Days" designated by EPA New England or your state. An Ozone Action Day is announced when ozone is predicted to exceed national health standards. On these days it's especially important to try to reduce pollution production.

>Action you can take: Early detection can help prevent further lung damage and alter the progress of the disease. Your healthcare provider can perform a simple test using a spirometer to determine if you have COPD.

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:
graphic of a big blue arrow. Take the smoke-free pledge.
graphic of a big blue arrow. 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.
graphic of a big blue arrow. 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 www.epa.gov/radon/find-radon-test-kit-or-measurement-and-mitigation-professional 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:
graphic of a big blue arrow. Make sure your heating systems, gas or propane stoves, ovens, and dryers are well-vented and in proper working order.  
graphic of a big blue arrow. Don’t idle your car or lawnmower or other gasoline-powered equipment in the garage.  
graphic of a big blue arrow. Don’t use propane heaters or candles inside of tents. indoor air quality
graphic of a big blue arrow. When the power goes out, be careful with generators and avoid unconventional heating and cooking methods.
graphic of a big blue arrow. Put CO monitors/alarms that meet UL (Underwriters Laboratories), IAS (International Approval Service) standards in sleeping areas and basements.
graphic of a big blue arrow. Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.
graphic of a big blue arrow. Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
graphic of a big blue arrow. Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
graphic of a big blue arrow. Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
graphic of a big blue arrow. Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
graphic of a big blue arrow. 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: www.cdc.gov/mold/

>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:
graphic of a big blue arrow. venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside
graphic of a big blue arrow. using air conditioners and dehumidifiers . increasing ventilation
graphic of a big blue arrow. 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 www.cdc.gov/mold/

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