Residents of Lowndes county in Alabama, which is nearly 75 percent Black, were repeatedly and consistently denied access to clean sanitation systems, according to an environmental justice agreement announced by the Biden administration. The lack of sanitation in the community caused a litany of sewage-related health risks for decades, and went unabated by Alabama officials despite activist and community pleas to fix the situation.

The environmental justice agreement was entered after an 18 month federal investigation that found Alabama officials engaged in a “consistent pattern” of inaction and neglect around the health risks from the raw sewage that saturated the soil near Black residents. The officials, the agreement found, “failed to take meaningful action to remedy these conditions.” “In this community literally, kids can’t go play outside. … You can’t step outside without seeing and smelling what is happening, in a way that affluent, white communities do not face,” Melanie Fontes Rainer, director of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, told the Washington Post.

The sewage backups and soil contamination were exacerbated by climate change, as the area became more prone to flooding and extreme weather events. (NBC News, AP,, Washington Post $)