Apr 26, 2022

Civil Rights Investigation for Alabama Underway Due to Raw Sewage

In some places, raw sewage is pooling all over neighborhoods and flowing into the yards, emitting foul odors

alabama water

The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation in November to assess whether the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department operations discriminate against Black residents.

More specifically, many residents in rural towns including Hayneville must pay for sewage to flow into the lagoons because there aren’t more advanced centralized treatment facilities, reported NBC News.

For Jerry Dean Smith’s neighborhood, raw sewage is pooling all over the neighborhood and flowing into the yards, emitting foul odors, reported NBC News. 

According to residents, this is the result of not installing a centralized sewage system and a matter of racism. Lowndes County, for instance, which is majority Black, has a poverty rate of 22% and at least 40% of homes have inadequate or no sewage systems. 

“Lowndes County is a textbook case of systemic racism,” said Robert D. Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University and Alabama native, reported NBC News. “Race has been the most significant determinant of who gets infrastructure and who gets left behind. It’s like racism has kept this county underdeveloped. And it’s kept them underdeveloped, which has spillover effects in terms of life expectancy.”

As a result, many residents use PVC pipes to carry waste from homes into open holes in the ground.

According to a study by a team at the Baylor College of Medicine and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, 1 of every 3 adults has tested positive for hookworms.

County officials responsible for part of the sewer system have not released a statement or comment regarding the matter, reported NBC News.

Sherry Bradley, the director of the Bureau of Environmental Services of the state Public Health Department, has defended the Justice Department. Bradley argues that it’s on the homeowner to install sewer lines from a home to the county’s system, reported NBC News.

“They’ll come out with the same conclusion I had. I’ve done my own investigation. I see no discrimination,” said Bradley, reported NBC News. “If you flush your toilet, you’re responsible. First of all, your home is your property. It’s private property. A lot of people think the health department is going to — can go on private property. That’s not so.”

Bradley has since started a nonprofit pilot program to put septic tanks on some properties. Residents are urged to use outhouses until they can get help. 

Read related content: