Stop Forcing Impoverished Communities to Live in Sewage

Target: Scott Harris, Alabama State Health Officer

Goal: Expedite timeline for fixing sanitation systems in community experiencing public health crisis.

In what was billed as a landmark case linking environmental justice with human rights, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently found in favor of a majority-Black Alabama county and ruled that the state’s own public health department had discriminated against community members at the expense of their well-being. The specific allegations involved an absence of adequate sanitation and sewage system infrastructure within the county. As a result of this deficiency, residents routinely dealt with raw sewage seeping through their drains and even rising in their backyards during heavy rains. In an especially disturbing finding, over a third of community members reportedly tested positive for the intestinal hookworm parasite found in many developing countries.

In the ruling, the DOJ found a “consistent pattern of inaction and/or neglect concerning the health risks associated with raw sewage.” The county in question does not enjoy access to more efficient municipal sewer lines, relying instead on costly septic systems. If residents cannot afford these systems (a sizeable percentage of the community lives below the poverty line), they face fines. The DOJ finding mandates a suspension of these fees, an increase in public health education, and—most consequentially—an assessment of the sanitation systems and a path forward for their upgrade and improvement.

Unfortunately, the public health department that has routinely abandoned its duty has been given a year to even come up with a plan, much less implement it. Sign the petition below to demand an accelerated timeline for the sake of these already-disadvantaged populations.


Dear Dr. Harris,

“Environmental justice is a public health issue, and where you live should not determine whether you get sick from basic environmental hazards not faced in other affluent and white communities.” This statement, made by the Department of Health and Human Services, was in direct response to the dereliction of duty this agency was found to have perpetrated against the residents of Lowndes County. For at least five years, and likely much longer, these human beings endured substandard living conditions and threats to their health typically only experienced in third-world nations.

You must do better for the sake of all Alabama residents. Several years from now—or even one year—may legally meet your obligation, but it will certainly not morally make right this systemic failure. Please make an upgraded and healthy sanitation system the highest priority because no person in this state should go one more day living in a preventable and discriminatory state of distress.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Sustainable Sanitation Alliance

One Comment

  1. I am amazed that there are no comments here besides mine. If the subject is animal abuse, everyone chimes in. Why does no one care or give time to comment on human abuse?! It’s disgusting how some people are forced to live because they are poor. This is worse than some animals are treated. Get this sanitation problem fixed!!

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