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Hazards commonly found in basements include toxic chemicals, pests, mold, indoor air quality issues (such as dangerous gases) and fire hazards that can affect all rooms of the home. Visit the kitchen to learn more about chemicals and pests; visit the bathroom to learn more about mold.

Dangerous Gases

Some environmental hazards can't be detected with human senses. Carbon Monoxide and Radon are two very dangerous hazards that can only be detected with special equipment.

What is it?

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

  • Odorless, colorless, toxic gas
  • Comes from burning gas, oil, coal or wood
  • Leads to fatigue, illness, unconsciousness and death
  • In 2010, the Poison Control Center received over 75 calls for carbon monoxide exposure in Monroe County


  • Odorless, colorless, radioactive gas
  • Comes from bedrock below homes (naturally occurring)
  • Enters basements through cracks in walls and floors, and through dirt floors
  • Second only to cigarette smoke as the leading cause of lung cancer. In the United States, radon is responsible for about 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year

What can I do?

Carbon Monoxide (CO)

  • Install CO detectors on all floors of your home, near sleeping areas
  • Have your furnace inspected by a professional every year
  • Follow ventilation instructions when using fuel-burning heat sources (e.g., kerosene heaters); do not use generators indoors
  • Do not heat your home with the stove


  • The only way to know whether there's a problem is to have your home tested
  • Kits can be purchased in a  hardware store or online
  • There are two kinds of tests: 2-day (quickest) and 90-day (most accurate)
  • If there is a problem with high radon levels:
    • Hire a professional or contact your state radon office for guidance
    • Stop smoking (cigarette smoke increases the risk of lung cancer from radon)
    • Open windows and use fans to increase ventilation
    • Seal cracks in floors and walls

Fire Safety

The most important thing in the event of a fire is to make sure that you and your family are able to get out safely. It is therefore important to have working smoke alarms on every floor of your home, and to test the batteries every 6 months. NEVER remove the batteries from your alarm. The City of Rochester Fire Department provides FREE smoke alarms and CO detectors to city residents. It is also important to make a "fire plan" with your family (how to get out of the house, where to meet) and review it often.

Some things you can do around the home to prevent fires are to make sure electrical cord appliance are in good condition and working properly, avoid overloading outlets, and to never leave the stove unattended when cooking.


What is it?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can be found around the house in places like pipe or furnace insulation and tiles. When damaged, asbestos releases tiny fibers into the air that can be inhaled. Long term exposure can lead to lung cancer. Intact asbestos poses no health risks.

What can I do?

If you think you have an asbestos problem in your home, contact Pete Corrigan with the Monroe County Department of Public Health, Indoor Air Quality Unit at (585) 753-5075, or email

The Furnace

Why is my furnace a hazard?

Furnace Hazard

Your furnace plays a major role in home air quality. Keeping it clean and maintained can improve your family's health by preventing CO from getting into the air and removing allergens/asthma triggers. Keeping your furnace maintained can help you save on energy costs too!

What can I do?

  • Change the furnace filter at least 3 times a year (if there are asthmatics in your home, it's better to change it even more often)
    • Choose a pleated filter (A), it will trap more; if you can see through it, it won't catch anything (C)
    • Filters rated as MERV 10 or higher are best (though if you get too high, it may reduce your furnace's efficiency)
    • HEPA filters (B) are more expensive but reusable; make sure it's completely dry before putting it back or it can grow mold.
  • Have a professional inspect your furnace annually to avoid problems with CO, dust, etc.

Paint and Chemical Storage

Proper chemical storage is important in all parts of the home. Keep all chemicals away from children (up high and behind child-proof locks). Store them in their original containers, and do not leave empty containers lying around. To dispose of water-based paint, mix with cat litter and allow to fully dry, then discard in trash. Oil-based paint and solvents must be taken to a hazardous waste facility.


Smoke detector

  • Download the Carbon Monoxide and Fire, Furnace and Radon checklists for more details
  • Contact the Rochester Fire Department for FREE CO and smoke detectors: (585) 428-1362
  • Contact the New York State Department of Health Radon Division for test kits and more information about Radon: 1 (800) 458-1158 x27556 or visit
  • Contact Pete Corrigan at Monroe County Department of Public Health for Air Quality concerns: (585) 753-5075 or