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ADPH signs contract to install septic tank systems in Lowndes County

FILE - Fetid water stands outside a mobile home in a small mobile home park in rural Hayneville, Ala., Lowndes County, Aug. 1, 2022. The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday, May 4, 2023, said an environmental justice probe found Alabama engaged in a pattern of inaction and neglect regarding the risks of raw sewage for residents in the impoverished Alabama county and announced a settlement agreement with the state. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)
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FILE - Fetid water stands outside a mobile home in a small mobile home park in rural Hayneville, Ala., Lowndes County, Aug. 1, 2022. The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday, May 4, 2023, said an environmental justice probe found Alabama engaged in a pattern of inaction and neglect regarding the risks of raw sewage for residents in the impoverished Alabama county and announced a settlement agreement with the state. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is announcing the implementation of a contract with the Lowndes County Unincorporated Wastewater Program Sewer Board (LCUWP) for the installation of septic systems for Lowndes County residents.

This comes nearly one year after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced an environmental justice probe found Alabama engaged in a pattern of inaction and neglect regarding the risks of raw sewage for residents in the county. A settlement agreement involving the federal departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS) was reached in May 2023 with state health officials to address longstanding wastewater sanitation problems in Lowndes County.

Since the agreement was signed, ADPH created an Environmental Health Assessment to analyze health risks related to exposure to sewage from failing onsite septic systems. The department also started the Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program to install ADPH-approved septic systems that can properly dispose of onsite sewage. The LCUWP will now administer the new program for ADPH.

Right now, ADPH says it's using information collected from the Environmental Health Assessment, which was developed in conjunction with DOJ/HHS, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to prioritize installation or repair of septic systems at residences most at risk of exposure to raw sewage.

The assessment asks questions concerning failing septic systems or straight pipes, location of raw sewage on the property, how often raw sewage backs up into the home, and the age and medical conditions of household members that might place them at higher risk of becoming sick from exposure to sewage.

Based on the ranking system ADPH developed with DOJ, HHS, and the CDC, ADPH has analyzed and prioritized the first round of septic system installations. All information provided is confidential and cannot be used against residents for any claim of a sanitation law violation.

ADPH will share the results of the ranking system with LCUWP after analysis of each batch of assessments is completed. LCUWP will hire a licensed soil professional to conduct a soil test at the selected residences.

Test results are used to design a septic system specific for the lot conditions; LCUWP will then hire a licensed septic system installer to use this design to install a system. ADPH will not seek liens on properties related to the installation, repair, or maintenance of systems under the Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program. Any contractor or subcontractor under the program cannot place such liens.

ADPH urges Lowndes County residents to fill out the Assessment immediately because the number of septic systems installed is limited to available funding which, for this contract with LCUWP, is $1,500,000 appropriated by the Alabama Legislature from the American Recovery Plan Act. The Environmental Health Assessment is available online.

More information on the Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program is available at the Lowndes County Health Department or at the ADPH Bureau of Environmental Services website.

The public can also visit the Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program web page or call (334) 206-5373 to learn more.

Baillee Majors is the Morning Edition host and a reporter at Alabama Public Radio.
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