Categories: Impact

Meet The Americans Who Live With Open Sewers In Their Yard

LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. — A breeze wafts the stench of raw sewage into Eric’s face as he stands outside his…

2 years ago

LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. — A breeze wafts the stench of raw sewage into Eric’s face as he stands outside his ramshackle mobile home. If he notices the smell, he doesn’t react.

The 62-year-old, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, strolls a few yards from his front door to where a black pipe emerges from the ground and empties a stream of putrid water into a shallow trench. Each time the toilet flushes in Eric’s home, waste flows through the pipe and out to this makeshift sewer. The effluence snakes its way within feet of a stand of trees where two pit bulls are tied up, and disappears into the woods at the far end of the yard.

A number of these waste streams crisscross the property, which Eric shares with relatives who live in several trailers clustered together near his. When it rains, he says, the trenches overflow, spreading bathroom tissue and fecal matter onto the grass. During heavy rains, wastewater backs up into Eric’s bathroom.

There’s also a stinking pool of sewage in the yard, just feet from the door of a nearby trailer. Soggy wads of toilet paper dot the layer of green scum on the surface. The pool is about four feet across and bubbles up from a broken septic tank below. The stench is overpowering. Eric keeps his distance.

He says he’s always had to live with raw sewage spilling onto his yard or flooding into his house. Nearly all his neighbors also pipe sewage into the woods or let it run onto the ground under their trailers. This is illegal and unsanitary — and residents know it. But it’s quotidian in this impoverished part of the South.

“It’s been like this before I was even born,” Eric says.

Thousands of Americans may come into contact with raw sewage on their property, based on survey estimates by the Census Bureau, though it is not known how many live in situations as extreme as Eric’s. There is no formal count of people in this country who reside near open sewers ― they’re believed to be among the nation’s poorest. Many are native, Latino or African-American, like Eric and his neighbors. Those exposed to unsanitary conditions can be found in both rural and urban areas, living in fear and secrecy and slipping through the safety net intended to protect them.

“These are fellow Americans suffering under unconscionable conditions that their neighbors and other Americans don’t know anything about,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who earlier this year met with Alabamians about wastewater issues, told HuffPost. “It allows a level of villainy to transpire in their lives. In other communities that are more privileged or well-off, that have access to the media or the levers of power, these kind of injustices would never be tolerated.”

Raju Jeelaga

It was not immediately clear who was responsible, but Macron’s political movement said.It was not immediately clear who was responsible, but Macron’s political movement said.It was not immediately clear who was responsible

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