Bad Air blocks (or "Noxious Fumes", or whatever you want to call it) could generate from inside the wall of a cave, similar to how Water and Lava sometimes do. The bad air would flow down into the cave and be sickly colored like very faint green or brown flowing liquid or a pool of liquid (greater visual transparency and may not be visible in the dark).
Bad air might also appear in swamp biomes for flavor, although it would not really be a threat to surface travel unless had a chance to form a pool of bad air.
Crossing into bad air would force you to hold your breath. But if you run out of oxygen, you become poisoned in addition to taking damage. Trying to navigate through bad air might also darken your vision (e.g. ink blast), make your vision get blurry, or whatever.
If you can track the bad air to its source you could plug it up, or at least hem it in with dirt blocks so as not to contaminate the lower levels.
You cannot swim out of it or up the flow, so if you find yourself in a hole filled with the stuff you will have to be careful getting out without taking any further damage, if the stuff drops you to 1/2 heart.
Pits and pockets of bad air or fumes would be one more good reason to carry a ladder or some disposable dirt or gravel or sand with you everywhere.
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