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News Releases from Region 04

Chapel Hill, North Carolina High School Student Receives Presidential Environmental Youth Award

Contact Information: 
Melana Byars (byars.melana@epa.gov)
(404) 562-8193 (Direct), (404) 562-8400 (Main)

ATLANTA – The White House Council on Environmental Quality, in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded 11th grader,  Joshua Zhou with the 2015 President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) and EPA’s prestigious Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award. Zhou was recognized for his innovative approach to producing a safe, affordable, and simple method for improving water quality and reducing pollution.

At a ceremony held August 16, 2016 at the White House, included remarks from Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator; Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s Chief Senior Advisor; and John King, Secretary of Education recognizing 18 teachers and 63 students from across the country for their outstanding contributions to environmental education and stewardship.

Zhou successfully created a more efficient, low-cost, and environmentally friendly method of improving water quality and reducing pollution, particularly 2,3,7,8 –tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD). TCDD is a persistent, manmade human toxin unintentionally produced during manufacturing or incomplete combustion that can contaminate rivers and other drinking water sources, impair ecosystems, and has well-documented adverse impacts on human health.

Zhou also discovered existing TCDD remediation technologies were both inefficient and expensive, limiting their widespread use, leading him to develop a unique material of semiconductor crystals that can affordably and efficiently degrade pollutants using visible light energy. The new material not only successfully degrades TCDD, one of the most stable organic pollutants, but it will also degrade most pollutants. Zhou hopes that the technology will serve as an affordable air and water pollution remediation option in developing nations.

The annual PEYA and Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) competitions recognize outstanding student leaders in environmental stewardship and exceptional K-12 teachers employing innovative approaches to environmental education in their schools. These students and teachers creatively utilize their local ecosystems, environment, community and culture as a context for learning.

For information on environmental education at EPA, visit:

For details on the new PIAEE winners, visit:

For details on the new PEYA winners, visit:

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