U.S. Justice Dept. Launches Investigation into Lowndes County Sanitation
The U.S. Justice Department says it’s launched an environmental justice investigation into the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department.
The investigation, which the Justice Department says will be conducted by the Civil Rights Division, will examine whether ADPH 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.
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,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.
“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 says it has not reached any conclusions regarding the allegations. This investigation marks the Department of Justice’s first Title VI environmental justice investigation for one of the department’s funding recipients.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has released a statement regarding the investigation, saying:
“ADPH is reviewing the information communicated to it by DOJ and HHS. ADPH will not publicly comment on the allegations made in the complaint while the investigation is pending. ADPH is committed to cooperating with the investigating agencies to have this matter resolved as quickly as possible.”
HHS is the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
Title VI prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin.
The investigation is being conducted with the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama.
People with relevant information are encouraged to contact the Federal Coordination and Compliance Section by email at AL.Lowndes.EJ@usdoj.gov.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.