Public health departments have a responsibility to operate waste management in a safe, uniform, and equitable manner, but for years, sewage overflows have plagued Alabama’s Lowndes County, predominantly affecting Black residents.
To address this injustice, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced a first-of-its-kind environmental justice probe into wastewater management and infectious disease programs under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Department of Public Health. The investigation was prompted not only by the unequal operation of the public health department but also by the fact that state and county health departments have received millions of dollars in funding to address the issue with little improvement.
The investigation will specifically look at whether Alabama officials discriminated against Black residents, causing them to disproportionately experience the effects of inadequate wastewater treatment operations.
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.
Hopefully, this initial DOJ investigation will set a precedent for further federal investigations into cases of environmental justice issues around the US.