Wastewater failures for Lowndes County’s Black residents at center of DOJ investigation

 1623688850 
1636463289
A sign reads "Welcome to Lowndes County. Home of Tent City," in White Hall, Alabama.

A sign welcomes visitors to Lowndes County in White Hall, Alabama. The U.S. Department of Justice opened an environmental justice investigation in November 2021 into the Lowndes County Health Department, along with the Alabama Department of Public Health, for their wastewater disposal and infectious disease and outbreaks programs.

Jimmy Emerson, DVM, Flickr Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Justice is opening up an investigation into the Alabama Department of Public Health and Lowndes County Health Department over concerns that the wastewater systems in rural Alabama discriminate against poor Black residents.

The investigation, opened Tuesday, is looking into the health departments’ wastewater disposal and infectious disease and outbreaks programs.

In a press release, the department said it is examining whether ADPH and LCHD are violating Civil Rights Law and whether the departments’ policies have reduced Lowndes County’s Black residents’ access to sufficient sewage and water systems and increased their exposure to harmful infections associated with poor wastewater management, such as hookworm — an intestinal parasite widely eliminated elsewhere in the U.S.

Lowndes County, where the population is largely poor and Black, has had complaints of poor infrastructure leading to raw sewage pooling in residents’ yards or backing up into their homes.

“Sanitation is a basic human need, and no one in the United States should be exposed to risk of illness and other serious harm because of inadequate access to safe and effective sewage management,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in the press release. “State and local health officials are obligated, under federal civil rights laws, to protect the health and safety of all their residents.”

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 blocks recipients of federal funding from discriminating based on race, color or national origin. The probe into Lowndes County’s sanitation systems is the department’s first Title VI environmental justice investigation for one of its funding recipients. No conclusions have yet been drawn.

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, WWNO in New Orleans and NPR.

 

As dollar stores continue rural expansion, a Louisiana parish found a new way to push back

Tangipahoa Parish blocked a new Dollar General from opening in a case that could set a precedent for other communities looking to keep discount retailers out.

A family’s search for their native and formerly enslaved heritage in South Alabama

The Tate Family has spent nearly two decades uncovering records that establish their ancestors' time in Alabama before its statehood.

Thousands across Alabama live without access to public water

In rural Marion County, some residents do the only thing they can think to do: call their legislator and cry.

Jon Batiste reflects on the South’s musical history: ‘I’m rooted in something bigger than me’

Before a recent concert in Birmingham, the Grammy-winning jazz pianist took time to learn more about the city’s history and influence on American music.

A court ruled embryos are children. These Christian couples agree yet wrestle with IVF choices

How do you build a family in a way that conforms with your beliefs? Is IVF an ethical option, especially if it creates more embryos than a couple can use? The dilemma reflects the age-old friction between faith and science at the heart of the recent IVF controversy in Alabama, where the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos have the legal status of children.

Community effort boosts reading scores at BCS

Results from the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program released last month showed 81% of third graders in the district are now reading at or above grade level. This is up from just 53% on the previous year’s standardized test.

More Front Page Coverage