Radon gas conjures visions of a low-budget horror film. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that creeps up through the soil into homes, a Utah State University researcher says.

And it could be the cause of 5,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year. But then again, maybe it's not, said Howard Deer, a Utah State University toxicologist.Radon has been around since the beginning of time, said Deer. The radioactive gas is produced as radium and uranium break down naturally, and the Environmental Protection Agency has recently tried to survey the problem.

Research to determine the effects of radon gas was first conducted on uranium miners, where it was suspected of causing lung cancer. The results have been conflicting, however, because high cancer rates among miners may be more indicative of their smoking habits.

This leads to another theory - that smoking makes people more susceptible to the harmful effects of radon.

Radon gas enters homes through cracks in foundations, loose-fitting pipes and loose slab joints, Deer said. The gas then is trapped inside homes due to poor ventilation.

Deer admits home surveys have been inconclusive and often confusing.