Montgomery, Alabama - The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it has opened an environmental justice investigation into the wastewater disposal and infectious disease and outbreaks programs of the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County, Alabama, Health Department.
The investigation, which will be conducted by the Civil Rights Division, will examine whether the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department operate their onsite wastewater disposal program and infectious diseases and outbreaks program in a manner that discriminates against Black residents of Lowndes County in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). The investigation will also examine whether the health departments’ policies and practices have caused Black residents of Lowndes County to have diminished access to adequate sanitation systems and to disproportionately and unjustifiably bear the risk of adverse health effects associated with inadequate wastewater treatment, such as hookworm infections.
“Sanitation is a basic human need, and no one in the United States should be exposed to risk of illness and other serious harm because of inadequate access to safe and effective sewage management,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “State and local health officials are obligated, under federal civil rights laws, to protect the health and safety of all their residents. We will conduct a fair and thorough investigation of these environmental justice concerns and their impact on the health, life, and safety of people across Lowndes County, Alabama.”
The department has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations in this matter. This investigation marks the Department of Justice’s first Title VI environmental justice investigation for one of the department’s funding recipients. Title VI prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. Up until now, the Civil Rights Division has regularly provided counsel and support to other federal agencies whose Title VI compliance efforts have involved environmental programs. The department’s grants do not often go to programs that conduct environmental work, limiting its direct jurisdiction to conduct these types of administrative investigations.