JoAnn Neel's poster -- "The Answer is Clear" -- features a clear ribbon, the "color" of lung awareness, warning readers that radon is "clear, tasteless, odorless and colorless, and can cause lung cancer."
During an award presentation in McCook Thursday afternoon, Denise Ringenberg, assistant director of the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department, explained that JoAnn created the poster two years ago as a fifth grader, but she missed the deadline to enter it in the local contest. Her mom rolled it up and tucked it under the bed, pulling it out two years later for the 2012 poster contest.
"We're thankful Mom didn't throw it away," Denise chuckled.
JoAnn's poster won third among 312 posters entered in the local eight-county contest, earning the right to go on to the state-level contest, where it placed first among 500+ entries. From there, JoAnn's poster traveled to the national-level competition where, among 800-some national entries, it placed third.
Robert Dye, an environmental scientist who serves as the program manager of the EPA Region 7 Office of Radiation and Indoor Air Program in Lenexa, Kansas, told those gathered for JoAnn's award presentation that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Yet, he said, there are no regulations that homeowners have to test for radon and remove it.
Dye said national-level poster judges look for accuracy in information and spelling, and study "how it can be used" in radon education efforts. "Will it work on a T-shirt, or on a mouse pad?," Dye asked.
The plaque that Dye presented to JoAnn thanked her for helping to educate the public on the issues of radon.
JoAnn thanked her teachers, from fifth grade and from seventh grade; the staff of Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department; McCook Christian Church, which hosted the presentation; Shelly Winder of Purple Moon Cookery, for the brownies for the presentation; her parents, Tamra and Chris, and her little brother, James; and her grandparents.
Ringenberg concluded the program, "Our message is JoAnn's poster -- 'The Answer is Clear.' My message is 'Test for it. Fix it. Save a life.'."
Ringenberg thanked McCook school administrators for their support of the poster contest, and her local judges: Camy Bradley, Phyllis Graham, Melanie Goodenberger and Melanie Jones-Wier DDS.
Local winners were:
1. Claire Maaliao, eighth grade, Perkins County Middle School.
2. Jadan Dietlein, sixth grade, Perkins County Middle School.
3. JoAnn Neel, seventh grade, McCook Junior High.
4. Sunny Sramek, sixth grade, Hitchcock County Schools.
5. Felicity Petty, eighth grade, Victory Christian Academy, McCook.
Cord Frink, fourth grade, Arapahoe Elementary School; Landon Towne, fifth grade, McCook Central Elementary; Kori Uerling, fifth grade, McCook Central Elementary; Ashley Briggs, eighth grade, Perkins County Middle School.
Laura Dreiling, seventh grade, Perkins County Middle School; Tyler Thelander, eighth grade, Perkins County Middle School.
Morgan Turner, sixth grade, Perkins County Middle School; Taylor Turner, seventh grade, Perkins County Middle School; Bailey Wood, eighth grade, Perkins county Middle School; and Makayla Schoen, fourth grade, Southern Valley School.