Teen 'lawmaker' takes on Tallahassee

14-year-old pushing for positive change in Florida

By Heather Leigh - Reporter, Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

ST. AUGUSTINE BEACH, Fla. - Madison Toonder has some unique interests for a 14-year-old high school student.

The science of sunscreen, oysters and affecting change by making laws are among them.

Madison has written two bills for the Florida Congress.

The one she's working on now for the State House of Representatives would set a cap on the percentage of chemicals allowed in sunscreens.

Madison, who lives in St. Johns County and attends Florida Virtual School, discovered that oysters are dying globally because of pollution. When she started researching sunscreen, she noticed it affecting how oysters filter water.

"For my research, I focused on the effects of micronized chemical sunscreen and the disproportionally increasing active ingredients in that and how it affects the oysters," Madison said.

What she found might seem surprising.

"SPF 15 spray sunscreen has about 25 percent active ingredients, and it protects you from 93 percent of UVB rays,” Madison said. “When you go to SPF 70, sun protection only increases by 5 percent, and the chemical active ingredients double from 25 percent to up to 50 percent.”

Madison took her knowledge to Tallahassee and met with representatives and senators about the House bill she is working on, which is the second one she's written.

The first dealt with protecting manatees.

"I see her do what she does, and I'm in awe," Madison's mother, Lois Toonder, said.

While Madison is enjoying her teenage years, she admits she's been busy and has done a lot of work for someone her age.

"I speak to my friends, and they're like, 'What are you talking about?'" she said.

Madison's interests span a broad spectrum from music to science to a love for animals.

She is intelligent and has been ambitious since she was a little girl.

"I've seen her motivated by people telling her she can't do it," Lois Toonder said.

Despite those "can't" comments, Madison has proven that she can and credits STEM education and the Florida Virtual School for making it possible.

She has classes in the morning, but she's free in the afternoon to pursue her interests in greater depth.

"The virtual school part of it takes a lot of dedication. It's independent study, and it's not for everybody, especially at the level that she's doing it,” Lois Toonder said. “She inspires me. I could not do at her age what she does."

Madison said she's excited people are taking notice of her accomplishments.

"I just love that I was in a newspaper," she said.

Madison is still working on her current bill and attended an environmental law conference where she spoke with leaders in marine and environmental conservation about it. She said she will continue her research before officially submitting the bill for consideration. 

Her ultimate goal is to become an exotic animal veterinarian.

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