60 Minutes shines light on Lowndes wastewater problems

Published 6:00 pm Monday, December 27, 2021

Catherine Coleman Flowers, the co-chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, brought 60 minutes to Lowndes County to shine a light on the lack of sanitation for residents who cannot afford to install septic tank systems.
When asked why she chose to focus on this problem, Flowers responded, “because it’s just so basic. We all go to the bathroom. We all should have access to sanitation.”
Flowers said that two-thirds of the 3,000 homes surveyed had failing septic systems or no systems at all.
“The difference between the failing systems and the straight pipe systems is that the straight pipe systems take it away from the home, when the systems fail, it brings it back into the home,” Flowers said.
Hayneville resident Charlie Mae Holcomb was interviewed for the show, and Holcomb said her kids have never been able to go out and play in the yard.
Holcomb pays sewage fees to have her waste flow to the municipal lagoon, an eight football field pond of sewage located across the street from her home.
“You can have the windows down, and the central air on, and the smell will wake you up,” Holcomb said.
Bill Whitaker, 60 minutes host, spoke with Dr. Rojelio Mejia, who performed a study in Lowndes County in 2017.
The study was completed on about 55 patients and more than 30 percent of those in at-risk situations with poor sanitation had hookworms. The Alabama Department of Public Health was unable to confirm Mejia’s results.
60 Minutes said Lowndes County officials told them they did not have the money to fix the problem.
Sherry Bradley, Alabama Department of Public Health, told 60 minutes that the department is not responsible for infrastructure.
Bradley’s department may not be responsible, but she has been working for four years to help Lowndes County residents obtain a septic system.
“I have never seen resistance like I have in Lowndes County,” Bradley said.
Bradley’s septic tank project has already helped 25 residents obtain septic tanks for their homes and has 25 more lined up for installations.
“I want to thank 60 Minutes for even letting us be on the show,” Bradley said. “Black Belt Unincorporated Wastewater Program will continue to be focused on helping those with wastewater disposal.”
Bradley has been contacted by several people asking how they can assist her in how to help the residents of Lowndes County. For example, a man from outside the south Alabama area has pledged several thousands of dollars towards BBUWP.
Anyone in Lowndes County who needs assistance obtaining a septic tank can apply for Bradley’s program by filling out an application. Applications can be obtained at Ace Hardware and the address to mail the application is will be on the back. For more information or to make a donation to the program, please call 334-206-5805 or 334-324-6430.