Greenwich students gain White House recognition for environmental project

Two students from Greenwich were recognized recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality for their outstanding contributions to environmental education and stewardship.

Madison Miles and Katherine Siciliano, seniors at the Covenant of the Sacred Heart School, won the award for their Plant Phenoms project, which tackled the environmental concern of traditional fertilizers contributing to water pollution and developed an eco-friendly plant food called Nutrasafe.

These 2015 winners for the annual President’s Environmental Youth Awards were among 63 students nationwide honored at a recent White House ceremony. The event included remarks from Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator; Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s chief senior advisor; and John King, secretary of education.

“These student winners showed their commitment to preserving our environment and addressing a significant environmental challenge,” said Regional Administrator Curt Spalding in EPA’s New England office. “Environmental education is the key to developing tomorrow’s environmental leaders who can someday address our complex issues of natural resources and protection.”

“This competition and awards ceremony provided my students with an unforgettable experience,” said Mary Musolino, science teacher for the winning students. “It was wonderful to witness the environmental stewardship of my students throughout the year and then to celebrate with them at the White House. The tours of the Library of Congress and the Capitol Building were also amazing, and we loved learning about the projects of the other inspiring award winners.”

Although plants need the nutrients that are in traditional fertilizers for growth, these fertilizers can pollute waters with nitrates and phosphates. The chemicals in traditional fertilizers make their way into bodies of water from runoff when it rains, leading to growth of algae and algae blooms. Algae spreads quickly in water that has too much nitrogen and phosphorus, particularly when the water is warm and weather is calm. When the algae die, they are eaten by bacteria which then deplete the oxygen and leave “dead zones” in the water, where aquatic animals have a hard time surviving.

Plant Phenoms developed and tested a new way to fertilize plants using nutrient-filled dried, ground-up banana and orange peels that are put in soluble, vegetarian gel capsules. As the capsule dissolves, the powder is distributed directly into the soil. If the powder were spread on top of the soil, wind and other environmental factors could blow away and remove the powder.  The team did many trials with different soils and seed types, and concluded that the plants given the gel capsules grew as well as the plants given the traditional fertilizer.

The PEYA awards recognize outstanding environmental stewardship projects by K-12 youth. Student projects featured activities such as creating a new eco-friendly fertilizer, restoring and conserving local habitats, promoting recycling and other waste reduction methods, analyzing the impact of solar panel installation, exploring a new water pollution mitigation method, and analyzing storm water flow and flood risk.

More information:

EPA environmental education info: https://www.epa.gov/education

This year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners: https://www.epa.gov/education/presidents-environmental-youth-award-peya-winners

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