Utah's fund for cleaning up hazardous waste sites is emptier than Mother Hubbard's cupboard.
Fifth- and sixth-graders at Jackson Elementary School think they know how to help remedy the situation.They suggest donations from the public and hope that they can raise enough that the federal government will augment the contributions with a matching grant. Matches up to 90 percent could bring the student effort to more than $20,000.
People who want to help can send donations to the Jackson Contributory Su-perfund, Salt Lake Education Foundation, 440 E. First South, Salt Lake City, UT 84111.
The children, members of a class for gifted students, have taken environmental safety to their hearts for some time. They helped publicize a hazardous waste site in their own neighborhood and promoted a cleanup at that site.
"They've taken out lots of barrels," said Jason Prince. The project isn't complete, but they feel very good about the progress. The soil contaminated by chemicals at the site will have to be removed before the hazard is completely addressed.
State government leaders have recognized the contributions the children have made to a cleaner environment. Next week the State Health Department's Division of Environmental Health will pre-sent the youngsters a plaque engraved with the children's names. Gov. Norm Bangerter also will declare a day in their honor.
In February, the students went to state legislators with money they had raised nearly $500 through a white elephant sale and Christmas shop. They have encouraged businesses to donate as well. They mailed more than 550 letters to Utah companies and have received more than $2,000 in donations.
Kory Hansen thinks perhaps movie
stars might be willing to contribute, if they were contacted. "My mom and I saw an article that said, `Stars knee-deep in cleaning up wastes,' " she said. "Maybe we could write to the stars."
The students have been encouraged to become involved in their community and their own future through KidSpeak, a portion of a local Project 2000 undertaking. The program encourages them to engage in future problem solving.
That gives them a stake in creating the kind of world they will live in, said Jamie Atwood. "We don't want ourselves or others to be hurt."
Harmful chemicals can "hurt people bad," agreed Health Otley.
"They can cause birth defects," said Jerry Yazzie.
Those are the reasons that keep the students interested in environmental concerns, said teacher Barbara Lewis.
Having learned that appeals to business may be a source of money for a cleanup fund, they are now prepared to take the message to the public.
Craig Dixon, who has spearheaded the effort, designed a coupon, complete with a pledge that the money will be used only for its stated purpose.
"Help small industrys who can't aford clean up costs," he said (in typical grade-school spelling). "This money will not be used in litigation. Olny for clean up."
"Litigation" is a pencil-full for a fifth-grader, but it shows the students are learning how controversial an area they have targeted for action.
Craig and his fellow students are learning something about government in the process. "We think the government will give us some money if we do this," he said.
Pete Barton, however, also recognizes that the government has problems of its own. Any matching money for the Jackson Elementary School project must wait on a release of funds authorized a year ago for dealing with environmental cleanup, he said.
One of the most important things these youngsters have learned is that people can make a difference, regardless of their age. "We want people to know kids can do things, too," said April Chacon.