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ADPH enforcement moratorium to aid sanitation 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)
Jay Reeves
/
AP
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 United States Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services recently conducted a civil rights investigation of the sanitation programs of the Alabama Department of Public Health. In May, ADPH made a legal agreement with the U.S. to take immediate actions on the raw sewage exposure issues in Lowndes County.

The DOJ last month said an environmental justice probe found Alabama engaged in a pattern of inaction and neglect regarding the risks of raw sewage for residents in an impoverished Alabama county and announced a settlement agreement with the state.

The federal departments of Justice and Health and Human Services announced the results of the environmental justice probe and a settlement agreement with state health officials to address longstanding wastewater sanitation problems in Lowndes County, a high-poverty county between Selma and Montgomery.

The agreement is the result of the department’s first environmental justice investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The DOJ did not accuse the state of violating federal civil rights law, but it said it found two areas of concern: The potential use of fines to punish people with inadequate home systems and what it called inadequate action to assess and address the potential health risks from raw sewage.

ADPH agreed to a number of changes, including the creation of a comprehensive plan for the region, and a moratorium on fines. The federal department agreed to suspend their investigation as long as the state complies with the settlement terms.

ADPH’s voluntary agreement with the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services will protect Black and low-income county residents of Lowndes County who:

  • Cannot pay to put in a functioning septic system;
  • Cannot afford to fix one;
  • Are not on a municipal sanitation system (sewer);
  • Are concerned:
    • They will be fined by a judge or face jail time
    • They will lose their property
    • Their personal information will be shared

In a press release, ADPH said this legal agreement is between the state agency and the United States – no one else – and only covers septic tank systems – not municipal sewer. ADPH officials said they want to help Lowndes County residents improve their quality of life by stopping raw sewage from remaining on the ground outside homes or backing up into homes. To accomplish this goal, the agreement does several things for residents who do not have the means to install or repair an ADPH-approved septic system:

  1. ADPH will no longer report Lowndes County residents to the police for not having a working septic tank system or for straightpiping as long as they:
    —Provide information to ADPH about their method of wastewater disposal, and/or
    —Apply under any program run by ADPH to receive an onsite septic/wastewater system approved by ADPH and designed to function with the specific soil at the property and keep sewage discharge to their property and not drain it onto other people’s property.
  2. Residents will not be fined by a judge or face jail time because they straightpipe or rely on septic systems that do not work properly.  This also means that residents will not lose their property because they cannot afford to install a septic system that works properly.

ADPH officials ask Lowndes County residents with straight pipes or with septic tanks that do not work properly to visit the Lowndes County Septic System Program web page or contact (334) 206-5373 for more information about getting a septic system designed, installed or repaired so that it works with your property’s soil. ADPH will not use your personal information to report you for straightpiping or having a septic system that does not work.

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