This 21-year-old toxic detective is scrubbing the environment of chemical contaminants

Shannon Lisa likens herself to a detective of sorts.

The 21-year-old currently serves as the program director for the Edison Wetlands Association, a non-profit dedicated “to protecting human health and the environment in New Jersey and beyond through education, action, and public awareness.”

“A lot of the focus when I went to school was on recycling,” Lisa told In The Know. “Little did I know there was such a sinister issue just beneath the surface, and I just knew that I had to do something.”

Credit: In The Know

Lisa’s work with the group sees her out in the field, taking samples from natural sites like rivers and lakes before running them in a lab to discover potential sources of chemical contamination.

“There’s been no corner of the United States left exempt from being turned into industries’ private dumping ground,” Lisa explained. “Polluters, when they have wastes from their manufacturing process and they don’t have strong (ethical) oversight, they just dispose of their garbage wherever — onto the ground, into waterways, through sewers. They can cause everything from cancer to liver damage and brain damage. It’s such a high stakes issue.”

“A lot of young people like me are surprised that this is still an issue today,” she added.

Credit: In The Know

Lisa’s work with Edison Wetlands Association began on a high school class trip when she was 14 years old.

“It just changed my path forever,” she recalled. “I applied to volunteer here as soon as I could.”

Over the next year, Lisa plans to work on several restoration projects, essentially turning “garbage to gardens” in order to make people realize the value and the beauty of the land around them.

“That’s the core of everything that working on environmental issues is,” she said. “Oftentimes, you got to clean up things that are not your own mess, but you do it because places like this are so important.”

Credit: In The Know

She hopes that through her work in her New Jersey community and beyond, she can rally others to help put an end to chemical pollution.

“It’s not about individual action,” she said. “It’s about bringing a lot of other people in.”

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