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Enjoying Clean Water

PFAS: A Lethal Legion of Chemicals

PFAS, an acronym that stands for over 12,000 chemicals. These widely unregulated chemicals were created by "accident" in a corporate lab. These chemicals were found to be useful in household consumer goods and firefighting gear for the purpose of making these goods water proofed and stain repellant. However, what isn't useful about these chemicals is the impact on human life.

In North Carolina, DuPont now Chemours, a negligent company, dumped in great quantity dozens of PFAS into the Cape Fear River, the largest watershed in North Carolina. Poisoning the water source of nearly 1.5 million North Carolinians.

These chemicals have been linked to rare cancers, kidney disease, neurological diseases, adverse impacts on reproduction in expectant mothers and the inability to be "digested" or "broken" down by the body, earning the name "forever chemicals."

In 2018, the news of PFAS hit the media and uncovered were decades of pollution in the North Carolina environment by PFAS and the corporation responsible. Shortly after, Hurricane Florence hit the shores and spread PFAS contaminated water miles inland, exacerbating the exposure to human and wildlife.

In 2019, Professor La'Meshia Whittington joined with national advocates at the Center for Environmental Health. Alongside these advocates, elected officials and community leaders, Professor Whittington organized the first PFAS community town hall in North Carolina outside the government. Read the details of her fight below, alongside advocates, doctors, scientists, local, state and federal government leaders.

Following the town hall organized by Professor Whittington in 2019, she launched a tour in Eastern North Carolina. She traveled to various community meetings, conferences, and gatherings to educate communities on PFAS and its harms. She educated hundreds of advocates in counties located on the Cape Fear River. 
In 2020, she joined the state organization NC Conservation Network and regional partners in organizing and launching a regional tour with celebrity actor Mark Ruffalo to increase community and elected officials' awareness of PFAS. Through this tour, Professor Whittington created the first national connection to PFAS as an environmental justice issue, taking that concern to the NC DEQ Secretary, former Secretary, and now acting US EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
In 2020, Professor Whittington joined the Center for Environmental Health again, along with Clean Cape Fear, Cape Fear River Watch, Democracy Green, and Toxic Free NC, to file a petition against PFAS and Chemours to the US EPA under the Trump Administration. The petition was denied, but in 2021 the coalition re-filed the petition under the Biden Administration. 
In 2021, Professor Whittington became a community liaison for the National Academies of Sciences. She presented the first presentation on PFAS as an environmental justice issue concern for frontline communities, detailing primary problems and potential solutions to address clinical testing needs in rural and frontline urban communities. This research was incorporated into the now-published Guidance on PFAS Exposure, Testing, and Clinical Follow-Up in 2022. The first official publication to guide clinical testing on these chemicals for the CDC in the nation's history.
The same year, Professor Whittington was invited to deliver this training to the National Governor's Association. She provided education, analysis, and guidance to top state leaders nationwide. Professor Whittington played an instrumental role in creating educational, evidence-based research and solidifying PFAS as an Environmental Justice concern that spread across the country to the White House and Canada.
In 2021, Professor Whittington spearheaded the draft of a public letter of support for Administrator Michael Regan to be appointed to the US EPA as the Administrator. Joined by two additional advocates, the letter was finalized and spread nationally, garnering signatures from across the United States, including Robert Bullard. The letter was considered in the deliberations of his nomination. This effort, combined with Administrator Regan's record, was appointed the first Black man to hold the office.
Administrator Regan invited Professor Whittington to deliver comments for the groundbreaking announcement and unveiling of the US EPA's Environmental Justice & External Civil Rights Office. There Professor Whittington joined alongside Civil Rights and Environmental Justice Icons: Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Dollie Burwell, Dr. Beverly Wright, Leader Vernice Miller-Travis, Congressman G.K. Butterfield, and Rev. Dr. William Barber III. Since accepting the office, Administrator Regan has unveiled a PFAS roadmap, informing states on how to begin addressing PFAS.
Without government resources, Professor Whittington has supported community members by directly fundraising hundreds of thousands of dollars and granting grassroots organizations resource support to spread the word and testing support for PFAS-impacted communities. Professor Whittington supported the amplification of community leaders and their stories, leading to a feature in the New York Times.
In the petition filed twice to the US EPA, Professor Whittington joined her mother, Executive Director Sanja Whittington of Democracy Green, and her brother, Robert Whittington, Jr. of NC Black Alliance, to file the petition against PFAS to the US EPA. The US EPA granted the petition.

In the News

Professor La'Meshia Whittington joins Congresswoman Dingell, Attorney Rob Bilott, EWG VP Melanie Benesh and Michigan LCV for a national press conference on EPA PFAS Hazardous Designation


For decades, DuPont dumped toxic PFAS into North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. Today, the local community is suffering the health consequences—and fighting back.

June 07, 2021 Nicole Greenfield 

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“For decades, our communities have suffered silently from PFAS contaminated water. All the while, polluting corporations have continued to profit from our pain,” said La’Meshia Whittington

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Bloomberg Law

She said Regan’s experience with environmental justice came from being born in Goldsboro, N.C., and knowing firsthand about how people are affected by the combination of multiple pollutants, low levels of education, and limited access to medical care.

“That can’t be taught,” Director La'Meshia Whittington said.

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The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center) and the National Governors Association (NGA) hosted two webinars in a series on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and drinking water for NGA members.


In the second webinar, state researchers joined an environmental justice advocate to discuss how the science on PFAS is used by state decision-makers and the impact of PFAS contamination on different communities. 

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