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Five Indian Americans Win President's Environment Award

Press Release

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the 17 winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award from 10 regions with five Indian American kids among the honorees.

In Region 2, Samuel, a second grader from New Jersey, is teaching his school and community about the importance of composting through his project, “Worm Tower, Earth Power.”

Samuel created a composite or worm bin with the help of his second grade teacher and sponsor, as well as his parents.

He shared the information he learned throughout the community, with his fellow classmates, with other classes in the school, and with the Bergenfield Garden Club. He will continue this composting project and ultimately distribute all the worms used in his bin to the Garden Club so that these worms can continue to have a positive effect on the environment.

For his “Electronic Recycling Initiative,” Jay M., a senior from Indiana, was a winner in the EPA’s Region 5.

Jay partnered with the e-recycling organization TechRecyclers to ensure responsible handling and data destruction of materials collected during multiple community electronics drives. He advertised through local news, online publications, social media, and flyers.

The electronic drives took place between 2015-2017 involving 15-to-20 volunteers per event and diverted over 30,000 pounds from landfills.

Because of his efforts electronics recycling drives are now conducted annually. In addition to the drives, he undertook an e-waste education initiative for third and fourth grade students. He noticed detrimental effects that heavy metals in broken electronics can have on both people and the environment.

Realizing the extent of these effects, he began a research project to test the protective effects of a green algae, Chlorella vulgaris, on zebrafish exposed to multiple concentrations of methylmercury (a poisonous form of mercury in electronics).

His research received an award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. In addition, he has been a Distinguished Finalist for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, and has written lesson plans for Kids are Scientists Too, a non-profit organization, the EPA said.

Asvini T., with her “Save the Place Where We Are Living and Save the Planet” project, and Madhalasa I., with her “Saving the Hands that Feed Us” project, were named winners in the EPA Region 6.

As a grade schooler in Texas, Asvini implemented a city-wide battery recycling initiative diverting over 25,000 batteries (weighing more than a ton) away from landfills. Asvini did her research and conducted a series of presentations about the dangers of the chemicals found in batteries.

She made a clear connection between those dangers and associated human health risks, as well as damage done to the natural environment. Soon after, she had her school, the library, and city officials involved, placing battery collection bins in her school’s classrooms, in the local library, recreation centers, and elsewhere.

Her efforts have been recognized by the local media, the mayor and environmental groups, and her work has expanded to include a website and a paper reduction campaign. Asvini has now added paper recycling to her outreach efforts and is taking her campaign even further.

When 32 pesticide poisoning deaths (in three months) occurred in Madhalasa’s ancestral town of Yavatmal District in India, Madhalasa felt compelled to do something, the EPA said.

As a seventh grader in Texas, she coordinated a community fundraising activity that brought in enough money to purchase 700 pairs of gloves and masks for farmers in that region. She involved her Girl Scout troop to prepare them and volunteers in India to distribute them.

Additionally, after conducting research on pesticide effects, Madhalasa came up with a blend of stable mixed cultures that could potentially help biodegrade a leading pesticide faster than what is most commonly used, it said.

Her work earned her first place in her District’s Science Fair and has received local media attention. Madhalasa’s journey is far from over; she is currently researching the possibility of a low-cost plant-derived herbicide.

Gitanjali R., in EPA Region 8, was named a winner for her project, “Developing a Technology for Water Quality Testing.”

Gitanjali’s project addressed the core issue of speedy, accurate and inexpensive detection of lead contamination, potentially helping people take preventative measures and maybe even saving lives, the EPA said.

She developed a device to accurately measure lead contamination levels in water using nanotechnology, and then displaying it on a custom mobile app. The device is portable, and can be reprogrammed for other contaminants.

In addition to securing research and development funding and testing the prototype, she is actively promoting water quality awareness in her local and global community, participating in news interviews, speaking with Flint, MI activists, participating in TEDx conferences in India, and acting as a reporter for “TIME for Kids.”

Two teams in EPA Region 10 were named winners, each with help from Indian American kids.

A first-grade class from Washington was chosen for its project, “Make Soil not Smoke by Composting.” This first-grade class from Washington took on the project of a school garden and in the process, learned and educated their community about the benefits of composting.

As part of their garden, the class wanted to create compost to add to the sandy soil. When they examined their school’s “burn pile” for leaves to compost, they realized that burning leaves was an unnecessary process that adds a great deal of smoke to their air each fall, the EPA said.

Their project soon became that of educating the community on the benefits of composting rather than burning leaves. In addition to a grant to support vermicomposting, they received donations of organic materials from local ranchers and received truckloads of horse manure, straw and hay, and a dump truck load of apple cores.

The Colville Indian Tribe donated tools the size that the students could use. Over one year, they created over two hundred cubic yards of excellent compost. The class reached out to the community members and organizations to spread awareness of making soil not smoke. They hosted events, gave demonstrations, created a float, and staffed booths at street fairs and the local farmers market to get their message across.

Team Operation Sustain, the other winner, is an organization run by six high school students in Washington who have a goal to increase environmental awareness in the next generation of students.

Since being inspired by their Environmental Science class, they wanted to educate elementary students about environmental issues to encourage them to make change and to make technology more accessible to promote the STEM fields.

In the summer of 2017, these high school students developed Operation Sustain, an educational sandbox-style simulation video game in which third-to-fifth grade students are tasked with building a successful sustainable city.

Through the game, the students learn the large-scale solutions to sustainable city development and the choices they can make as individuals to positively impact their community, while also having fun, it said.

The students worked with Washington Green Schools to identify academic standards for third-to-fifth grade students related to the game and developed teacher handbooks and four one-hour session curriculum supplements with engaging activities, quizzes, discussion questions, worksheets, and presentations for easy implementation in the class.

They are working with the superintendents in the state of Washington to implement this curriculum for every fifth-grade student, it said.

Each year the PEYA program honors environmental awareness projects developed by young individuals, school classes (kindergarten through high school), summer camps, public interest groups and youth organizations.

The PEYA program promotes awareness of our nation's natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. Since 1971, the president of the United States has joined with EPA to recognize young people for protecting our nation's air, water, land and ecology. It is one of the most important ways EPA and the Administration demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship efforts created and conducted by our nation's youth.

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