Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is formed by decaying uranium. Colorless, odorless and tasteless, it occurs underground and readily moves through voids in rocks and soils. When it is released outdoors, radon levels pose a low threat to human health. But when released indoors through cracks in house foundations and other openings, the gas can be sealed in, causing prolonged exposure, particularly in colder months when houses are closed off. Though exposure to radon does not directly cause any symptoms, it can, and frequently does, lead to cancer. Radon is the leading nonsmoking cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and the federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates it causes more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the nation each year.

Allison Perry Sullivan, an environmental analyst with the state Department of Public Health and the agency’s lead on radon, called the gas “the largest environmental health risk in Connecticut.”

Because the state does not currently have a law requiring the reporting of radon mitigation contracts, or lung cancer cases in which radon exposure is suspected as a contributing factor, quantifying the impact of the gas in Connecticut is difficult. However, Sullivan says it is not uncommon in the state. “Most of Connecticut is in a high potential zone for radon, but radon can be found anywhere there is uranium in the soil and rock,” she says. “The only way to know if you have radon is to actually do a test. You can’t test the air before building a house. You have to wait till a house is ready for occupation before a test can be done.”

Two houses right next to each other may have different radon levels, and although there are areas of the state where radon risks are thought to be higher, there are no areas where there is no risk of the gas being present. It is recommended that you test the lowest occupied floor; so crawl spaces or a basement where you just do laundry need not be tested, but basements where you spend more than a few hours a day or plan on spending several hours a day in the future should be tested.

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