Can You Name That Culprit? - Quiz About Indoor Air Hazards

The clues below describe 10 common indoor air problems. (For Answers, see below.)

Can you identify the culprit?

  1. This activity is entirely preventable and puts tiny particles and some chemicals into the air, causing residents to have more colds and asthma attacks and be more likely to get cancer.
  2. It can grow inside the home, on carpets, walls, and ceilings. It can even get in the air. Some varieties can cause serious health problems in young children, the elderly, and people who are receiving certain kinds of medical treatment.
  3. You can't smell or see it. It comes from household appliances that burn fuel. Too much of it can make you sick or even kill you. There are detectors available to warn you of its presence.
  4. It can make you mildly ill with symptoms like headaches and dizziness. This condition can magnify otherwise mild problems, and it is easy to correct once you know about it.
  5. These chemicals are used for a certain purpose in and around the home. Some uses may cause residents mild to serious health effects. Some of these chemicals may last a long time, leading to chronic exposure.
  6. It was often used to insulate heaters and pipes. If present in the home, it should be carefully inspected and either removed or sealed. It can break up into tiny pieces that get into the air and can cause serious health problems.
  7. You can't see it or smell it. It can enter your home from the ground or the water and it occurs naturally. The only way to know if it's in your home is to have a test that can be done at low cost.
  8. It is present in many older homes. It can get into the air when doing certain hobbies; making household repairs, scraping or sanding painted wood in the older home, and from everyday activities that raise dust.
  9. It comes from new furniture, plywood, wall board, flooring, and even draperies and continues to get into the air for some time. It is invisible and has a distinctive odor. It can cause headaches and other discomforts. The way to control the presence of this culprit is through ventilation.
  10. It comes into your home on dry cleaned clothes or may be in your spot remover. If you live near a dry cleaning facility, it may enter your home from the outside air. At high enough levels, it may affect your vision, coordination, and brain function.


  1. Cigarette Smoking

    Family members who live with smokers are exposed to "passive" smoke and it may make them sick. If you don't allow smoking in your home, pollutant levels will be reduced.

  2. Molds and Fungi

    The most important way to prevent mold growth in your home is to keep moisture levels low. Repair roof and plumbing leaks promptly and check your basement or foundation for signs of water, too. If you have heavy mold growth in your home, you should check with a professional to recommend the safest way to remove it.

  3. Carbon Monoxide

    Carbon monoxide levels can build up in homes without any warning. Get your chimney and heater checked every heating season by a professional and invest in a carbon monoxide detector!

  4. Poor Ventilation

    Indoor air can become stale when ventilation is poor. Both older homes and newer ones may have ventilation problems. Everyday pollutants--dust, cooking odors, moisture from showers, smoke--build up in the air if ventilation is poor.

  5. Pesticides

    Always read and follow the labels carefully when using pesticides. Some improper applications of some pesticides can leave pesticide residues that can linger and may cause illness. When hiring a professional applicator, be sure to follow the directions about preparing your home and staying away for the recommended time after application.

  6. Asbestos

    Asbestos fibers that are loose and crumbling can enter the air in your home. Breathing asbestos has been linked to cancer and lung disease. Be sure you hire a licensed contractor to remove asbestos since improper removal can release asbestos into the air, making the problem worse. If asbestos is not crumbling, it can probably be sealed in place.

  7. Radon Gas

    Radon occurs naturally from decay of uranium in the soil and has been linked to lung cancer. It enters many homes through cracks in the basement walls, openings to the outside, and through water wells. A canister test kit can be ordered from the State Health Department (518-402-7550 or 800-458-1158). If radon levels are high, the problem is fixable! The cost depends on your home's location, construction and levels of radon. Professionals will help you interpret the test results and fix the problem.

  8. Lead

    Lead paint in older homes is a common problem. If your home was built before 1978, lead paint was probably used. One simple way to reduce lead levels in the air in your home is to reduce the amount of dust in your air. Wet mopping and dusting are better than sweeping or dry dusting. When scraping or sanding, be sure to wet the area down to keep dust levels low.

  9. Formaldehyde

    If someone in your family is sensitive to formaldehyde, try to buy household products that are made with less formaldehyde. It also helps to air out the product if possible before bringing it into your home. Higher temperature and humidity levels increase formaldehyde emissions. Eventually all the formaldehyde is released from the products. The best way to control formaldehyde levels once products are in the home is to increase ventilation.

  10. Perchloroethylene

    Most dry cleaners use perchloroethylene. Clothes that have been dry cleaned with it have traces of perchloroethylene in them that go into the air in your home. If you live near a dry cleaning facility or above one, you may also be exposed to perchloroethylene from the facility. This chemical can affect your health. Contact your local health department for more information.