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How We Can Help the Sanitation Crisis in Rural America

Photo: Courtesy of John Cameron

“The sanitation crisis is one that occurs in rural communities where there has not been adequate investment in technologies to allow people to treat wastewater onsite,” explains Catherine Flowers, Director of Environmental Justice and Civic Engagement at the Center for Earth Ethics.

For some people in municipal systems in small towns, their wastewater is actually coming back into their homes and yard, while many of those affected cannot find an affordable option to clean and treat their wastewater. As a result, there is evidence of hookworm and other tropical parasites invading homes that are directly related to poor sanitation conditions.  Hookworm has been proven to negatively impact a child’s ability to develop intellectual capacity at a normal level.

“The parasites found are directly related to raw sewage,” says Flowers. The risks associated with raw sewage contamination are worsened with the rising temperatures and increased flooding that result from climate change.

The effects

Those living with poor sanitation infrastructure often have raw sewage in their backyards, states Flowers.

“Anywhere within 100 feet of where the sewage is can be dangerous,” she says, explaining that without proper infrastructure in place, home value and regional development both suffer. “Businesses don’t want to go where there’s no waste water infrastructure. You find it in communities where people are impoverished and marginalized and in communities that are not conducive to conventional septic treatment. That is true for many parts of the U.S.”

Making a change

The sanitation crisis is one that is felt around the world, Flowers explains. “With a concerted effort, we can help not only people here in the U.S. but people in the rest of the world with the same problem.” According to Flowers, this first step is to asses the magnitude of the problem.

“I think that this is an opportunity to look at ways we can recycle wastewater and reuse it,” she says. “I’d like to see it in my lifetime.”

Zoe Alexander, [email protected]

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