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ADPH reminds Lowndes County residents of survey for septic system improvement program

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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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)

This summer marks the one year anniversary of the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) agreement to address the ongoing sewage crisis in Lowndes County. The department has deployed its Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program and is still awaiting the response from residents in that Black Belt community.

In January, ADPH sent out Environmental Health Assessments to more than 4,000 residents of Lowndes County. The department said these surveys would help determine which residents will receive a septic tank installation through the program. Doctor Karen Landers, chief medical officer with ADPH, said the number of assessments filled out has been underwhelming.

”As of the first part of May, we have received a little over 300 surveys back. As a result of that, we have continued to promote that person can still fill out the survey,” said Landers.

ADPH has received a $2.2 million dollar allocation of American Recue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to help low-income households install or replace failing septic systems. Out of the amount of environmental health assessments completed, only a few households have been eligible to receive new septic systems through the funding.

Landers said that ADPH is awaiting to select a nonprofit organization that will examine Black Belt Soil, which is one of the largest causes for the county’s sewage problems, and install the new septic systems.

“We have identified five homes that are in the most need at the moment through the survey. Once the request for proposal process has been completed with the nonprofit, the soil assessment will be done at those homes. Based on that soil assessment, a determination will be made regarding which type of system can be installed,” said Landers.

The agreement between the ADPH, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) required that ADPH deploy a community outreach program to ensure that the residents of Lowndes County know about the program and are able to apply.

Landers said community outreach workers are currently spreading the word about the program ADPH is giving residents more time to fill out an Environmental Health Assessment. She said she hopes that more assessments are completed in the coming days so that households have a chance be improved in the area.

“I think the most important message right now is for our citizens of Lowndes County to complete those surveys. If you haven't done it, please complete the survey, because that will give the Alabama Department of Public Health the information that it needs to work with the nonprofit entity to be able to move this process along, and again, improve the living conditions for the citizens in Lowndes County.”

More information on the ADPH’s Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program can be found on the ADPH website. Those who are looking to fill out an Environmental Health Assessment can click here, or call ADPH at 334-206-5373 for more information or to find out where they can receive a physical copy of the form to fill out.

Hannah Holcombe is a student intern at the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. She is a Sophomore at the University of Alabama and is studying news media. She has a love for plants, dogs and writing. She hopes to pursue a career as a reporter.
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