Monday, September 26, 2016

500,000 U.S. homes lack sewage disposal systems; problem especially bad in rural Black Belt

Lowndes County, Alabama
(Wikipedia map
About 500,000 U.S. homes—mostly in poor, rural areas—lack basic plumbing, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. Numbers are especially high in some areas of the Black Belt, "so called more for its soil than its demographics." In Lowndes County, Alabama, one of the poorest counties in the nation, only half the population is on municipal sewers and a University of South Alabama survey found that "about 35 percent of homes had septic systems that were failing, with raw sewage on the ground. Another 15 percent had nothing."

Many residents are unable to afford to pay thousands of dollars for septic systems, Tavernise writes. Another problem is that the hard clay soil in this county is bad for burying things—in particular, septic tanks. Lacking a septic tank, many residents instead run a plastic pipe from their toilet under their yards and into the woods behind their houses.

Parrish Pugh, an official with the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the problem with that is that state law "forbids the use of 'insanitary sewage collection,' and the responsibility for that rests squarely with the homeowner," Tavernise writes. "Resisting is not only illegal, but could have health consequences: Raw sewage can taint drinking water and cause health problems." He told Tavernise, “My parents had a pipe that ran into the woods, and that’s good enough for me. But we didn’t know as much about disease back then. People are more educated nowadays. They are more concerned.”

Tavernise writes, "The state health department begs, cajoles, and eventually cites people who have problems and do not fix them. In the early 2000s, the authorities even tried arresting people. That prompted a public outcry and the practice soon stopped, but one person spent a weekend in jail and others were left with criminal records. The department cited about 700 people in the 12 months that ended in March, often because someone complained."

No comments: