DOJ investigating Alabama over wastewater in majority-Black county
The Justice Department (DOJ) will investigate allegations that the state of Alabama’s wastewater management program discriminates against Black residents of a rural county.
In a press call Tuesday morning, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department’s Civil Rights Division said the department has received allegations that 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.
The allegations could place Alabama and Lowndes County 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 DOJ.
Clarke drew a direct link between the investigation and the Biden administration’s broader ambitions regarding both the environment and infrastructure.
“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.
Clarke went on to cite statistics that 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.
A spokesperson for the Alabama Department of Public Health told The Hill the department has no comment while the investigation is pending but that it is cooperating with the probe. The Hill has also reached out to Lowndes County.
Updated at 2:47 p.m.
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