EPA Chief Tours Sewage Problems in Alabama’s Black Belt | Alabama News

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HAYNEVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency said he witnessed “unacceptable” problems with raw sewage fouling properties of residents of Alabama’s Black Belt.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan got a firsthand look Saturday at homes in Lowndes County, where malfunctioning septic systems discharged sewage into backyards and between mobile homes. He was in the region ahead of the commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma that helped bolster support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Regan said it was “sobering” to see failing septic systems, raw sewage backing up into yards and homes, and children forced to walk gingerly in soggy front yards, al.com reported.

“This is unacceptable,” Regan said. “Safe drinking water, safe sewer systems, you know, this is a basic right. These individuals deserve what every American deserves, which is clean water and a safe environment.”

Wastewater treatment has been a decades-old problem in parts of Alabama’s Black Belt, where communities often lack traditional sewer lines. Septic tank systems have been a poor alternative because the region’s heavy clay soil traps water near the surface.

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Federal, state and local officials have spent years seeking solutions. Regan and Agriculture Undersecretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small, who was also on the Saturday tour, said the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 could help make solutions a reality.

Among the residents speaking out during the EPA chief’s visit was 59-year-old Jerry Smith.

“When it rains, all this whole area floods and the waste comes right behind,” Smith said. “That’s what we’ve been dealing with.”

Smith added: “This is ridiculous that we, you know, we pay taxes on this property and the property is contaminated.”

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