U.S. Justice Dept launches environmental probe into Alabama wastewater disposal


Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, the United States, June 25, 2021. REUTERS / Ken Cedeno

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice opened an environmental investigation Tuesday to investigate whether Alabama’s sanitation practices discriminate against certain black residents and put their health at greater risk.

The investigation, led by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, will focus on the Alabama Department of Health (ADPH) and the Lowndes County Department of Health.

It is the first time in the history of the Ministry of Justice to initiate a Title IV environmental justice investigation against one of the Ministry’s grant recipients.

U.S. Civil Rights Act prohibits local governments and other entities that receive federal grants from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin.

“Sanitation is a basic human need and no one in the United States should be at risk of disease or other serious harm because of inadequate access to safe and effective sanitation,” Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general in civil law at the Department of Justice, said.

Some of the adverse health effects on black residents exposed to raw sewage in Lowndes County included hookworm infections, she said in a media briefing.

The residents are not connected to the municipal sewer system because they live in rural areas that are not incorporated into the municipality and as such are dependent on private septic tanks in permeable clay soil.

Clarke said the Justice Department had received allegations on behalf of county residents that Lowndes health officials and state health officials were aware of the health risks but did not do what was necessary to safely dispose of the raw sewage. “State and local health authorities have a duty under federal civil rights laws to protect the health and safety of all of their residents,” she said.

In an email to Reuters, the Alabama Department of Health said it was reviewing the information provided by the Department of Justice and was unable to comment as possible while the investigation was ongoing. “

When asked for comment, the Lowndes County Health Department referred Reuters to the state health department.

According to Clarke, Lowndes County, which lies between Selma and Montgomery, is a predominantly black and low-income area with an average median income of just $ 30,000.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting from Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Adaptation by Mark Heinrich

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