SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) – Illinois officials are encouraging residents to test their homes for radon gas this week during Radon Action Week.

The state Emergency Management Agency says 1,200 people die in Illinois each year from radon-related lung cancer.

Studies show nearly 40 percent of Illinois homes have radon levels above safe levels, according to IEMA interim Director Joe Klinger.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that comes from the radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil. It can seep into buildings through foundation cracks, sump pumps or crawlspaces.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency Radon program has started an awareness campaign about the dangers of radon, with a Web site that features a PowerPoint presentation available to teachers, and a public service video in which radon is portrayed as a dangerous ninja trying to get into someone’s house. The video was the winning entry in a contest, produced by a group of students at Wheaton North High School.

Home improvement stores carry simple kits that homeowners can use to test for radon gas. Also, IEMA licenses more than 250 contractors in the state who measure radon and 90 that help get rid of it.

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