Office of Public Affairs | Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services Highlight Progress by State of Alabama to Implement Environmental Justice Reforms in Lowndes County

The Justice Department and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today progress by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) in providing access to basic sanitation services, abating exposure to raw sewage from inadequate onsite wastewater systems and improving health outcomes for the predominantly Black communities of Lowndes County, Alabama.

Today’s announcement comes one year after the Justice Department and HHS secured an interim resolution agreement with ADPH following its investigation into whether ADPH violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557). Title VI prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin in their federally funded programs and activities. Section 1557 provides that an individual shall not be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of or subjected to discrimination under any health program or activity, any part of which is receiving federal financial assistance, based on the grounds prohibited under Title VI.

“Advancing environmental justice is a top priority for the Justice Department,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Through this agreement, the Justice Department and HHS are working rigorously to ensure that residents of Lowndes County can access basic sanitation needs. We will continue working with the community and the state’s Department of Public Health to implement all of the reforms in our agreement. The Lowndes County community deserves nothing less.”

“For decades, Lowndes County residents have endured living without basic sanitation and wastewater disposal services. The disproportionate impact of this on Black, low-income, rural residents — who, for generations, have suffered through illness, infectious diseases and public health risks simply for living in their own neighborhoods — is unacceptable,” said Director Melanie Fontes Rainer of the HHS Office for Civil Rights. “The work by HHS and the Justice Department here is significant in working with the State of Alabama. Today’s update shows the progress made by the state to address these issues. Environmental justice is critical for people across the country and we will continue to fight to ensure that this community and others are is safe from environmental hazards.”

ADPH has taken the following actions to advance sustainable and equitable solutions for onsite wastewater management for Lowndes County residents: 

  • Selected the first set of residences whose wastewater systems will be installed or repaired for free via a local, not-for-profit entity that will manage ADPH’s Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program;
  • Suspended criminal enforcement of state sanitation laws in Lowndes County against residents without the means to purchase functioning, ADPH-permitted septic systems;
  • Conducted a public health information campaign, including the development and dissemination of flyers concerning the health risks associated with exposure to raw sewage, how to mitigate exposure to raw sewage and proper septic system maintenance;
  • Launched its Environmental Health Assessment (Assessment) to identify and prioritize residences for septic system installations or repairs based on data analysis of which homes face the most serious environmental and health risks from exposure to raw sewage;
  • Created and filled a Lowndes County Community Liaison position and an outreach/grant manager position for Lowndes County and Black Belt communities to oversee implementation of ADPH’s Public Health and Infrastructure Improvement Plan (PHIIP); and
  • Submitted the PHIIP, which sets forth plans to avert future public health risks and implement sanitation solutions for the community.

ADPH encourages Lowndes County residents who are required to use onsite septic systems for wastewater management to complete the Assessment. Residents can access the Assessment at More information on ADPH’s septic system installation program is available at or by contacting ADPH at (334) 206-5371 or at ADPH will not use the information collected by the Assessment for any other purposes, including issuing citations for alleged violation of sanitation laws.

The Civil Rights Division’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Section and the HHS Office for Civil Rights conducted this investigation jointly with the support of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama.

Individuals who believe their civil rights have been violated can file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division at Additional information about the HHS Office for Civil Rights is available on its website at If you believe that you or someone else has been discriminated against in programs or activities that HHS directly operates or to which HHS provides federal financial assistance, you may file a complaint at

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