A hidden risk lurks in Alabama that puts the lives of many residents at risk. Raw sewage from flooded septic tanks would bubble into the residents’ yards and even inside their houses during rainy days.
The lack of municipal sewage systems in many unincorporated counties and many houses with failing septic systems is becoming a public health issue.
The problem also stems from the region’s heavy clay soil, which does not allow sewage water to drain correctly, resulting in sewer water gushing to the surface.
Untreated sewage can lead to bacterial infections and intestinal parasites. Poor sanitation has led to an outbreak of hookworm, a disease thought to be eradicated in the South but persists today due to inadequate lack of wastewater treatment and infrastructure.
The Washington Post article “Justice Dept. to investigate rural Alabama county with inadequate sewage systems” reports that sewer overflows in Lowndes County have prompted the Justice Department to launch an investigation in November 2021.
Here are some points mentioned in the article:
- They looked into “whether a rural Alabama county discriminated against Black residents by denying them access to adequate sanitation systems and exposing them to increased health risks.” The investigation also came after years of complaints from civic activists regarding that problem.
- Speaking about the inadequate wastewater infrastructure of the County, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights division, says that “sanitation is a basic human need, and no one in the United States should be exposed to the risk of illness and other serious harm because of inadequate access to safe and effective sewage management.”
- According to the article, the investigation will determine whether a provision in the Civil Rights Act was violated – or essentially if the County withheld federal financial assistance due to its residents’ race, national origin, or color.
- If the investigation finds a violation of the Act, then then the Department of Justice will work with Alabama officials to pursue a solution, or it could also impose its reforms.
According to the Washington Post article, Clarke linked the infrastructure deficiencies in Lowndes County to failing infrastructure networks across the United States. He pointed to the US $1.2 trillion newly approved Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA) or the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to correct the problem.
Montgomery Advertiser’s article “Rural Alabama wastewater infrastructure ‘public health issue’ gets much-needed attention,” says Lowndes County residents have received updated septic systems.
The article mentions the following:
- Improvements to the County’s sewer system were made possible through the partnership between Columbia World Projects, Columbia University’s international research initiative, and Alabama stakeholders like the Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater in 2020, which has engineered a solution – building a wastewater infrastructure in the County.
- In addition to installing the first working treatment in Hale County, where several communities can connect to it, the group will help towns throughout the region access the new federal funding to improve their wastewater infrastructure.
- Project Leader and University of Alabama professor Mark Elliot say that the initiative is an opportunity to right the wrongs, especially in many rural Black Belt communities that never had an adequate wastewater management system.
- The group plans to install five more systems within a year, costing each home around US$15,000. Funding to cover these costs will come from the American Rescue Plant Act and the IIJA.
- The ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) has approved $225 million to spend on the water and sewer infrastructure. It will set aside $5 million for demonstration sewer projects in the Black Belt, which will pay for the Columbia World Project Initiatives.
- The article states that since the state has approved the funding, at least 398 water and sewer systems have already applied to access the grant.
- Kevin White, University of South Alabama professor and fellow project lead says that “The lack of wastewater management in the rural Black Belt is fundamentally a public health issue,” White said in a press release. “It’s also about the lack of a critical developed world infrastructure that allows for economic growth and development, environmental protection, and public health protection.”
Good quality water supply and wastewater sanitation systems are fundamental to good public health and well-being, which can be achieved by providing and managing these infrastructure systems through their lifecycle.