Originally Published By Conrad Swanson in The Denver Post
Madhvi Chittoor envisions a world without pollution and contamination and she’s willing to fight for it
A glob of liquid white glue, a dash of borax and warm water makes slime, Madhvi Chittoor knows. A bit of dye — blue and yellow makes green, of course — doesn’t hurt either.
Sodium hydrogen sulfate and tin chloride mixed in a petri dish will grow tin dendrites — metallic, crystalline structures — if there’s a bit of electricity to spark the chemical reaction.
“It’s literally growing right in front of your eyes,” Chittoor said, sliding the petri dish across her family’s tile floor, her eyes wide behind protective goggles.
But what’s the recipe to phase out the sale of PFAS — forever chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects — in Colorado? The 11-year-old Chittoor is still learning and working with lawmakers to find out.
Chittoor, who lives with her mother and father in Arvada, is one of the strongest proponents of House Bill 1345, currently under consideration by the state legislature, and one of the reasons state Rep. Lisa Cutter said she introduced it in the first place.
Before speaking with Chittoor earlier last summer, Cutter said in a March announcement that she was familiar with the chemicals, found in cookware, fabrics, cosmetics, firefighting foams and more. But Chittoor strongly encouraged the lawmaker to draft and propose legislation on the topic.
Cutter said that she often works with people who want her to introduce legislation, but when someone as young as Chittoor approaches her, that stands out.
“I do this work, particularly environmental work, largely because of young people like Madhvi,” Cutter said during a House committee hearing earlier this month.
“She really, really does believe in doing these things for the planet and does have that light inside her,” Cutter told The Denver Post.
Already the sixth-grader has enjoyed some success at the statehouse. Previously she supported a law phasing in a ban of single-use plastics, like plastic bags, and polystyrene containers from most retail businesses and restaurants. Gov. Jared Polis gave her a pen he used last summer to sign that bill.
She’s also currently supporting another proposal — House Bill 1348 — that would tighten chemical regulations for the oil and gas industry.
“Children like me, we do not want products and conveniences that pollute our aquifers, drinking water, soil, air, food and cause dangerous diseases,” Chittoor said to a House committee this month. “What we want is a happy, healthy life.”
Chittoor has always been a bright and precocious child, her mother Lalitha Chittoor said. She gravitates toward whatever catches her eye. She’s less interested in competing than learning, creating, exercising her mind.
Then, a 2016 documentary from CNN, called “Plastic island” caught her attention. The 14-minute documentary focuses on the Midway Atoll, littered with plastic, and the albatrosses that live there, sometimes mistaking the trash for food.
Madhvi Chittoor, far from 10 at the time, dove into environmental activism.
She describes her vision of a world without pollution and contamination. Serene waters.
“It’s almost a perfect world,” Madhvi Chittoor said.
The room that holds Madhvi Chittoor’s piano, where she’ll play the Tarantella, an Italian folk classic, also holds her guitar, other instruments, art projects and a small fort into which she can climb.
On one wall hangs a large sheet which the young girl colored, glued and sewed to her liking. It reads “I matter because I can do socially useful productive work.”
Aside from her activism and regular schoolwork, Madhvi Chittoor has plenty on her plate. She is the author of six short books including “Is Plastic My Food?” narrated by an albatross and meant to raise awareness of pollution among children.
She holds the Guinness World Record as the youngest professional music producer for her 2019 album “I am… Princess Genius,” which she released in late 2019.
She has not only met and worked with Colorado lawmakers and governors — she worked with former Gov. John Hickenlooper to declare April 2018 as Plastic and Styrofoam Pollution Awareness Month — but she’s also met with Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to further her causes.
But one Thursday afternoon in mid-April she was meeting with Gavin, an 11-year-old classmate, with whom she dove into several science projects for fun.
While the pair stretched slime between their fingers and tiny trails of smoke wafted from matches used to ignite gas bubbles, Lalitha Chittoor expressed a great deal of pride in her daughter.
The family’s home is colorful, full of thriving plants and fresh fruits, decorated throughout with Madhvi Chittoor’s projects. Paper snowflakes and patterns don the walls and even hang over the thermostat.
She turned the popular online game “Among Us” into a real life adventure, posting flash cards around the home, and created her own version of the famous painting Madonna and Child.
In her room, Madhvi Chittoor explains a drip irrigation project with which she’s growing flowers, tomatoes and pumpkins.
That’s how her daughter entertains herself, Lalitha Chittoor said. She’ll find something interesting and dive in with both feet. Her older brother, who is 23 and lives in New York, was much the same, albeit with different topics.
It’s a gift, a blessing, Lalitha Chittoor said. And she tries her best to foster her daughter, encouraging her to grow. These aren’t something they force on her.
Mary Fraser, who said she’s been teaching piano lessons for “a long, long time” has known Madhvi Chittoor for years. Her student is serious and “not at all flighty” like you’d think an 11-year-old would be, Frasher said, but she’s also happy. And talented.
“I don’t know where this composer thing might be leading or if she’ll take up more or less of a musical route,” Fraser said. “She has a lot of good interests going. The humanitarian one is especially important.”
Asked how she juggles all her different projects, Madhvi Chittoor shrugs and says it’s all time management. A labor of love.
Sometimes she’ll hit a speed bump. Or legislation she supports will be voted down. That happened last year when lawmakers killed a bill that would have forced manufacturers to support consumers looking to repair things like phones or electronic wheelchairs rather than buying new ones.
“That’s when I go take a break, walk outside, go to a park, meditate,” Madhvi Chittoor said.
Although it failed last year, that bill is once more under consideration by the legislature.
“I’m discouraged temporarily but I come back,” she said.
And she’ll continue to come back. After all she’s fighting for her future, for the future of her classmates, for those that haven’t yet been born.