Indoor Air Information & Regulations

When it comes to indoor air quality, the goal of the Air Quality Program is to minimize health risks posed by airborne and other environmental hazards in worksites, homes, and private and public buildings.

For owner-occupied residences, the Air Quality Program can provide technical assistance to help you identify possible sources of air pollution in your home. Program staff generally do not conduct investigations of air quality problems in owner-occupied residences, but can provide you with information and/or referrals to help you address any indoor air quality problems you may be experiencing.

For rental residences, Air Quality Program staff work with the City of Lincoln Building and Safety Department to conduct enforcement of the Lincoln Housing Code. If a nuisance condition is discovered, staff will advise the property owner of their responsibility to remediate the source of the nuisance. Property owners have up to 5 days to remove any visible mold that may be present, and up to 30 days to abate the source of an indoor air nuisance. Issues regarding lease contracts and rental agreements are civil matters covered by the Nebraska Landlord and Tenant Act. The Air Quality Program does not participate in civil litigation under the Nebraska Landlord and Tenant Act.

In addition, staff are involved in the enforcement of the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act (NCIAA), otherwise known as the Nebraska statewide smoking ban. Staff routinely check establishes with 'outdoor smoking areas' for compliance with Title 178, Chapter 7 of the Nebraska Administrative Code. By law, establishments that provide an outdoor smoking area are required to comply with certain requirements regarding the amount of open space provided to the outdoors.

The sections that follow provide some basic information on indoor air quality. Visit the following link for more detailed information: EPA – Indoor Air Quality

Common Indoor Air Pollutants

Carbon Monoxide

The most dangerous indoor air pollutant is carbon monoxide, a byproduct of combustion. Indoor sources of carbon monoxide can include: unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. Even at low concentrations, carbon monoxide can cause fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, it causes impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; nausea. It can also cause flu-like symptoms that clear up after leaving home. At very high concentrations, it can be fatal.

The Air Quality Program recommends that, if you have any gas-fired appliances in your home (water heater, furnace, stove, etc.), you install a carbon monoxide detector. The EPA recommends placing carbon monoxide detectors about 5 feet above the floor on every floor of your home, but the detector may be placed on the ceiling. Do not place the detector right next to or over a fireplace or flame-producing appliance. Keep the detector out of the way of pets and children. If installing only a single carbon monoxide detector, place it near the sleeping area of your home, and make certain the alarm is loud enough to wake you up.

Radon

Radon is a gaseous radioactive element derived from the radioactive decay of radium and uranium. It is an extremely toxic, colorless gas that moves through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can even enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, behind tobacco smoke, and is estimated to cause between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year according to the National Academy of Sciences BEIR VI Report. The Air Quality Program recommends the use of long-term radon test kits (3-12 months) because long-term tests are more accurate than short-term test kits (2-7 days) due to the fact that radon levels can vary greatly in a home in response to weather and other conditions. The EPA recommends homes be fixed if the radon level is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or more. Because there is no known safe level of exposure to radon, EPA also recommends that Americans consider fixing their home for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.

Biological Pollutants and Allergens

The most common allergens found in indoor air include bacteria, viruses, pollen, dust, dust mites, pet dander, mold, mildew, and cockroach debris. While most healthy individuals will not experience any health impact from such pollutants, people with asthma or allergies may be especially sensitive to their presence.

By controlling the relative humidity level in a home, the growth of some sources of biological pollutants can be minimized. A relative humidity of 30-50% is generally recommended for homes. Standing water, water-damaged materials, or wet surfaces also serve as a breeding ground for molds, mildews, bacteria, and insects. House dust mites, the source of one of the most powerful biological allergens, grow in damp, warm environments.

The Air Quality Program recommends that individuals with asthma or allergies take a look at the ‘Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value’ or MERV rating of their home’s furnace and air conditioning filter. A higher MERV rating translates to a higher efficiency at removing small particles (like the allergens mentioned above) from the air. If you’re considering installation of a filter with a high MERV rating, consult a heating and air conditioning professional to find out if your home’s system is compatible with such filters. It is important to note that all filters, regardless of rating, require periodic cleaning and/or replacement to ensure proper function of the home’s ventilation system. Always follow the manufacturer's recommendations on maintenance and replacement.

Chemical Fumes

Fumes released from certain paints, pesticides, cleaning chemicals, building materials and furnishings, solvents and adhesives associated with hobby activities, and even fumes from personal hygiene products can contribute to poor indoor air quality. While the pollution resulting from such activities is typically intermittent in nature, concentrations can become elevated if proper ventilation isn’t provided for. Always read and follow all label recommendations from the product manufacturer. If you experience any health-related issues when using such products, ventilate the area. If the issues persist, it may be advisable to evacuate the area until the pollutant levels are reduced.

Tobacco Smoke

‘Environmental tobacco smoke’ (ETS), also called ‘secondhand smoke’, is the combination of smoke given off by the burning end of a tobacco product and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. People around the smoker inhale this secondhand smoke in a process that is referred to as "involuntary smoking" or "passive smoking". Involuntary smoking is just as harmful as direct smoking, and there is NO safe level of ETS exposure. Secondhand smoke contains thousands of chemicals, several of which are known to known to cause cancer in humans or animals.

Individuals with asthma or other respiratory ailments can suffer very negative health impacts as a result of exposure to ETS.

The LLCHD’s Tobacco Prevention and Education Program can provide more information about the dangers associated with tobacco use, and resources to help current users quit. The Air Quality Program works with the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program to enforce the Lincoln Smoking Regulation Act and the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act, thereby reducing the public’s exposure to ETS in public places and places of employment.


Improving Indoor Air Quality in Your Residence

If you believe that poor indoor air quality is causing or contributing to respiratory ailments you may be experiencing, here are some things you can do to improve the air quality inside your home.

  • Regularly vacuum floors and upholstered furniture regularly with a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter. If using a canister-style vacuum, make sure to clean out the canister after each use. If using a bag-style vacuum, check the level of the bag before each use, and replace as necessary. Clean all vacuum exhaust filters on a regular basis.
  • Have all gas appliances checked to ensure they are working properly, including furnaces, water heaters, and gas stoves.
  • Maintain a humidity level between 30% and 50%. Air that is too dry can cause airways to become dry, cracked, and irritated. Air that is too humid promotes the growth and reproduction of biological pollutants.
  • Keep pets out of your home’s sleeping areas, and off of your upholstered furniture.
  • Maintain and replace your home’s furnace filter according to manufacturer recommendations. If you’re unable to locate manufacturer recommendations, it is generally recommended to change your furnace filter about once every 3 months.
  • Avoid smoking inside your home and vehicle.
  • Clean hard surface floors with a damp mop or cloth on a weekly basis.
  • Dust hard surfaces (shelves, furniture, appliances, etc.) on a regular basis.
  • Limit the use of harsh cleaning chemicals like bleach and ammonia.
  • Avoid overuse of air freshening sprays, candles, or aerosol personal hygiene products.
  • Vent clothes dryers to the outside.

For more information on asthma and other respiratory ailments that can be induced or exacerbated by indoor air pollution, refer to our asthma page, available here.

Lincoln Smoking Regulation Act (LMC Chapter 8.50) and the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act (NCIAA)

The Lincoln Smoking Regulation Act (also known as the Lincoln 'smoking ban') was approved by referendum vote on November 2, 2004. This law prohibits smoking any cigarettes, cigars, and/or pipes in public places and places of employment...with limited exemptions granted for guestrooms and suites, as well as scientific and analytical laboratories. In accordance with Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) 8.50.280, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department is authorized to inspect public places and places of employment in order to determine compliance with this ordinance.

The Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act (NCIAA), established by the Nebraska Legislature in 2008, is intended to protect the public health and welfare by prohibiting smoking in public places and places of employment. In accordance with Neb. Rev. Stat. 71-5734, the Nebraska Dept. of Health and Human Services developed rules and regulations to implement the NCIAA. Those rules are set forth in Title 178, Chapter 7 of the Nebraska Administrative Code (178 NAC 7).

The NCIAA prohibits smoking in indoor areas. In accordance with 178 NAC 7, Section 7-002, an indoor area "means an area enclosed by a floor, a ceiling, and walls on all sides that are continuous and solid except for closeable entry and exit doors and windows and in which less than 20% of the total wall area is permanently open to the outdoors. For walls in excess of eight feet in height, only the first eight feet shall be used in determining such percentage." Smoking is allowed in areas that do not meet the definition of an indoor area.

The NCIAA was revised by the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature in 2015. The revisions, effective November 1, 2015, allow for smoking of certain tobacco products in ‘cigar shops’ and ‘tobacco retail outlets’.

The 2015 revisions to the NCIAA provide that the exemption granted for smoking in ‘cigar shops’ overrides any existing local ordinances. However, the exemption provided for smoking in ‘ tobacco retail outlets’ does not override local ordinance. The Lincoln Smoking Regulation Act does not provide for any exemptions to allow smoking in ‘tobacco retail outlets’, and as such, it remains illegal to allow smoking in any ‘tobacco retail outlets’ located within the City of Lincoln.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department provides guidance for proprietors seeking to provide a compliant outdoor smoking area at their establishment. The LLCHD also conducts inspections to ensure that all smoking areas are in compliance with the NCIAA, and when necessary, coordinates enforcement of the NCIAA with the Lancaster County Sheriff's office, as well as the Lancaster County Attorney's office.

If you’re planning to provide an ‘outdoor smoking area’ for patrons of your establishment, check our ‘Air Quality Program Forms & Applications’ page for guidance documents that can help you determine whether your smoking area will comply with the requirements of the NCIAA.