A Nebraska woman who turned her concern over the quality of local groundwater into a national campaign to educate policymakers, farmers, businesses, and students about drinking water pollution has been selected as a co-recipient of the 13th annual Heinz Award for the Environment announced today.
Susan Schroeder Seacrest, founder of the Groundwater Foundation, is among six distinguished Americans selected to share the $1.25 million in awards, presented by the Heinz Family Foundation of Pittsburgh. Seacrest earned her master of science degree in education in 1978 from the College of Education, now the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. She shares her award with Dr. Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders - USA.
"Susan Seacrest embodies the very best of America's can-do spirit," said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation. "Self-educated on an issue that affects all of us, the safety and reliability of our groundwater, she has shared her knowledge and concerns with anyone and everyone who will listen. Engaging, creative, collaborative and, perhaps most of all, persistent, she has been a tireless and remarkably effective advocate for protecting the health of our fragile aquifers."
A mother whose concern over the quality of drinking water propelled her to become a self-educated authority on groundwater, Seacrest's unintended diversion into the realm of environmentalism began in 1985 when she learned that Nebraska's elevated leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma rates might be linked to pesticides and nitrates in groundwater near her Nebraska home. Because her infant son was seriously ill at the time, she was concerned that it was environmental degradation that was putting him and others at risk.
As a result, she contacted a researcher at the University of Nebraska who challenged her to learn all she could about groundwater. What she discovered moved her to found the Groundwater Foundation, an organization that for more than a generation has been a driving force in improving the health of the nation's groundwater. Through nonpolitical advocacy that emphasizes education and leverages the power of personal relationships, the Groundwater Foundation has helped bring about a wave of reform.
Seacrest's expertise in groundwater education earned her an Environmental Protection Agency appointment to the Children's Health Protection Advisory Council, two terms on the National Drinking Water Advisory Council and keynote speaking appearances at conferences around the world, including the United Nations.
"Our quality of life begins with the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink, but the health of these basic components of life is susceptible to the modern world around us," said Seacrest. "Ensuring that the water in our nation's aquifers is clean requires a steadfast commitment by all of us—a commitment that starts with educating ourselves and new generations about how to protect our precious groundwater."
Since 1993, the Heinz Family Foundation has recognized individuals whose dedication, skill and generosity of spirit represent the qualities that the late U.S. Senator John Heinz, for whom the award is named, held dear. In addition to the $250,000 award for their unrestricted use, recipients are presented with a medallion at a ceremony in October. Additional information about the awards and the list of recipients is available online at www.heinzawards.net.