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One man's crusade to stop toxic sludge dumping in Indonesia

Prigi Arisandi has devoted years to calling out Indonesian factories for toxic discharge into waterways. Today, he was awarded the 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize.

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Fish net in hand, Prigi Arisandi kicks off his sandals and wades into a shallow stream. Behind him a gaggle of uniformed high school students bend to their task: identifying the plants and bugs scooped from the waterway. Water samples are decanted into ice-cube trays and the contents are matched with textbook drawings.

For Mr. Prigi, an environmental activist, these weekly classes are another way to tackle river pollution, which has afflicted vital waterways in Java, Indonesia’s most densely populated island. He wants to instill in his students the need to protect the biodiversity of the 13-mile Surabaya River where he once played as a child, before factories moved in and the waters ran black.

The stream is clear and healthy. The nearby fields are planted with sugar cane. But Prigi worries that factories and houses will soon replace the fields and pose a threat to the rivers. So he's teaching the kids to understand and cherish their environment.

"More factories and houses will come here. I want [the children] to be prepared," he says.

Prigi’s efforts to check the dumping of toxic waste have become a personal crusade. “He never stops thinking about the river,” says Daru Setyorini, his wife and fellow activist, whom he met while studying biology at university.

In recognition of these efforts, Prigi is a recipient of the 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize, announced Monday, April 11, in San Francisco. The award is worth $150,000 and is given to six worldwide recipients in various categories.

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