A troubling look into the problem of raw sewage in rural communities from KARK today, focusing on Winchester (Drew County), where residents pipe waste directly into ditches surrounding their homes because the town lacks a sewage system.
In Winchester, deposits around resident’s homes of raw sewage can also migrate to surrounding natural resources, even the Arkansas River,
This causes health problems.
Carissa Darrough, a resident of Winchester, said “you can’t even go outside and sit sometimes because you smell waste” and that the raw sewage can cause “breathing problems.”
According to KARK, Winchester will know by September whether it receives a grant from the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District to build a sewer system.
Winchester is not alone in dealing with raw sewage. Many rural communities throughout the United States deal with pollution from inadequate sewage systems.
A key part of the problem is that in many communities — especially rural ones where sewage systems do not exist — the burden of paying for sewage is placed on the homeowner.
This means the amount of money you have, and can spend, determines your ability to clear raw sewage from your home. Take this case from Missouri where a woman was charged $25,000 dollars to repair her home’s sewage system.
And what happens if you cannot pay? In some cases in the United States, people have been arrested for not being able to buy a new sewage system.
The most famous case is in Lowndes County, Ala. The raw sewage problem there has been profiled by Al Jazeera America and AL.com and even mentioned in a 2011 U.N. report. (In college, I also reported on this, helping make a video with a group attempting to help stop the raw sewage problem in Lowndes called the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise.)
“In 1999, the Alabama Department of Public Health initiated legal action (litigations and arrests) against 41 sites for releasing raw sewage into the ground surface, despite repeated violation notices in an attempt to oblige wastewater management to meet minimum environmental and health standards. Many individuals, who could not afford to take remedial action, were arrested,” said the U.N. report.
The Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation, found more recently that “thousands of families in Lowndes County who live with raw sewage pooled in their yards and near their homes because local government does not provide adequate wastewater management.”
And the health outcomes — as one can imagine from living surrounded by raw sewage — are potentially much worse than just a bad cough. A study from the University of Baylor says the problem could mean the return of hookworm in Lowndes County, something greatly reduced in most of the United States.
Raw sewage is not the only issue here though, it’s a wider problem of rural health. In an article from Harper’s
This paragraph from her work might spell out just how troubling these health challenges are for a country with the wealth of the United States.
“Since then, Marion, a town of 3,500 and the seat of Perry County, has been grappling with a historic outbreak of a disease that has vanished from worry in much of the United States. Thirty-four active cases have been found; if that doesn’t seem like a lot, consider that the rate of infection — what the World Health Organization uses to determine severity — is almost a hundred times the national average, and higher than the rates in India, Kenya, and Haiti. Nearly 200 more in Marion were discovered to have latent tuberculosis, meaning that they were infected but had not developed active symptoms — which include bloody coughing, shortness of breath, night sweats, and weight loss.”