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Advocates warn of dangers of radon gas in the winter, urge testing at home

Screen indicating radon level on Airthings View Plus air quality monitor, Lafayette, California, March 23, 2022. Photo courtesy Tech Trends.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

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Health experts are urging Connecticut residents to test for radon this winter, warning that closed windows can trap this dangerous and hard-to-detect gas in homes.

Currently, about one in four Connecticut homes have high levels of radon, according to the American Lung Association.

The gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., responsible for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked.

But not everyone is aware if this odorless, tasteless and colorless gas is in their home.

“People are testing during real estate transactions which are more likely … in the spring and summer months,” said Ruth Canovi of the American Lung Association in Connecticut. “You don't always get a real reading of what the higher levels could be when everything is closed up in your home.”

Radon can enter a building through cracks in the floors, basement walls, foundations and other openings. In Connecticut, about 25.8% of radon test results equal or exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s action level of 4 pCi/L, according to the most recent American Lung Association’s “State of Lung Cancer” report.

“The health hazard comes when radioactive particles are released when radon decays,” Canovi said. “And these particles can be inhaled into the lungs and attached to your cells with dangerous cancer-causing radiation.”

Canovi is urging residents to test for radon in early winter. Several local health departments in Connecticut offer free radon test kits. Low-cost kits can also be purchased from the American Lung Association.

If radon is detected, residents should install a radon mitigation system, which consists of a vent pipe, fan and properly sealing cracks and other openings. The system also collects radon gas from underneath the foundation and vents it to the outside.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.