The Justice Department is finally going to investigate the place that God forgot.
For years, Alabama’s wastewater management system failed to deal with raw sewage conditions for the Black residents in Lowndes County, Ala., causing many residents to create their own makeshift waste sites just yards from their homes. The process is called “straight piping” in which the resident runs pipes above ground to holes outside of their property.
These waste setups are obviously unfavorable and have become the norm for a county where the per capita income is a paltry $18,434.
The Root’s senior reporter Michael Harriot wrote all about it some two years ago and no one cared. No one did anything about it. No one tried to stop it. Now the Department of Justice has had enough.
From the Hill:
In a press call Tuesday morning, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department’s Civil Rights Division said it has received allegations state and county officials have “failed to carry out their responsibilities to abate raw sewage conditions, thereby placing black residents of Lowndes County at higher risk for disease.”
Lowndes County, located in the so-called Black Belt, is largely low-income and home to many residents who do not have access to municipal sewer systems.
Clarke pointed to a 2017 Baylor University study attributing a hookworm outbreak in the county to poor sanitation, as well as criticism from the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The Baylor study indicated more than 30 percent of the county’s residents had tested positive for hookworm.
Alabama and Lowndes County could be “in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race by any entity receiving federal funds. The probe is the first Title VI environmental justice investigation involving a recipient of department funds,” according to the Hill.
Clarke noted that the immediate need to get this fixed was in alignment with the ongoing pandemic and climate crisis.
“As emphasized during the current COP26 climate summit, the ongoing pandemic and climate crisis compound the environmental health and infrastructure challenges faced by our nation’s most marginalized communities,” she said.
As it stands, “Black Americans are 75 percent more likely than their fellow Americans to live in proximity to hazardous waste, and are exposed to 1.5 times the amount of air pollution,” the Hill notes.