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Mekela Panditharatne

2017, Equal Justice Works Fellowships, Mekela Panditharatne

Mekela Panditharatne

Name of Host Organization: Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
City, State: Washington, District of Columbia
Issue area: Health Care, Environmental Justice
Sponsors: Anonymous

The Project

Create better public health outcomes for disadvantaged communities experiencing high exposures to pollutants from contaminated drinking water through litigation and policy campaigns across the United States.

The Inspiration

Need Addressed By Project
America has a drinking water crisis. Contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, has exposed tens of thousands of Flint residents to lead, and contributed to a doubling of elevated blood lead levels in the city’s children. Nearly 77 million people in the United States were served by community water systems in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2015. 27 million people were served by water systems that violated a health-based standard under the Act.
The Right Person For This Project

Mekela is the right person for the project because:
• She will have spent a year working with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on safe drinking water litigation and policy
• She was a summer law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU Racial Justice Project during law school
• She was a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic and the Education Adequacy Clinic at Yale Law School

Plans For First Six Months of Fellowship

In the first six months, Mekela will:
• Develop litigation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well other key federal statutes, to target drinking water contamination in vulnerable communities
• Enhance and develop NRDC’s relationships with key stakeholders, industry leaders, health experts and academics working on toxic water issues
• Create education materials and conduct outreach to community-based partners for public education campaigns around drinking water access and infrastructure