If you're a little tired of overhyped TV game and talent shows, here's a contest with some real green behind it.  A pair of Hanover middle school students has made it to the finals of a national contest aimed at encouraging American youth to make environmental change in their communities.

Luke and Jack Andraka, students at Chesapeake Science Point public charter school in Anne Arundel County, are representing Maryland in the "Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge."  Team AMD, as they are known, are vying with 21 other states' teams for either the grand prize or one of two national prizes.   Besides bragging rights, they stand to win an appearance on the "Planet Green" TV network or even an "adventure trip."

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The Andraka team is trying to develop a grassroots campaign to clean up the acid mine drainage that plagues many streams and rivers in the coalfields of western Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  The boys' dad and team mentor, Steven Andraka, explained that his family spends its summers and many weekends at a place near Morgantown, W.Va. and they noticed that the local stream there, a tributary of the Cheat River, was impaired by acidic seepage from mining activity.

Various state and federal government agencies are working to curtail acid mine drainage, which can impair and even kill off fish and other aquatic life in streams contaminated with metals and acid from old coal mines.  But with the encouragement and guidance of their dad, the boys - Luke, 14, and Jack, 12 - set out to devise a way for school or community groups to do something about the problem on their own.

Limestone is often used to neutralize the acid in mine drainage.  The team did some streamside testing of various consistencies of limestone, from sand-sized particles to bigger chunks, to find out which does the best job of raising the pH in the water and getting the harmful metals out. They settled on sand-sized grains.

Now, Steve Andraka says, they hope to show that by dumping bucketfulls of the limestone sand every six months or so in the headwaters of streams, or at points where mine drainage seeps out of the ground, they can effectively reduce the acidic contamination.

"The whole idea is to make it a grassroots-type effort," says Steve Andraka. If enough Scout or school or community groups take ownership of enough sections of a stream or river, they might be able to restore the entire water way, the team hopes.

Winners of the national competition are to be announced May 18.  Whether Team AMD lands the cool-sounding "adventure trip" grand prize or not, it sounds like they're already winners in terms of trying to do something about their local environment.

For more on the contest, go here.  Sponsors are Siemens Foundation, Discovery Education, a division of the Silver Spring-based media company that produces Planet Green, and the National Science Teachers Association.

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