Water Equity Clearinghouse

Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice

Uniontown, AL

Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice (BBC) was formed in 2005 in response to plans made by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to ship and dump four million tons of toxic coal ash in the Arrowhead Landfill. Despite a concerted effort by concerned citizens, from 2009-2010, coal ash was shipped by rail into the community and nearby residents began to notice problems such as pollution, water runoff, property damage, odor, public health issues, and other impacts. In 2012, members of the organization filed a civil rights complaint to hold ADEM accountable for its actions in increasing the size of the Arrowhead Landfill without consulting or protecting the community.

Since then, BBC has become involved in initiatives to address a range of environmental and economic justice issues that impact Uniontown’s majority African-American, low-income population. This includes projects focused on small business development, protecting sacred spaces from pollution, and public health. BBC has led and participated in educational programs, advocacy events, youth engagement, and training workshops to further spread a message of health and justice. It has collaborated with universities, faith groups, and civil rights organizations to bring awareness to the challenges facing the Black Belt.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

Since the late 1980s, Uniontown has experienced documented problems with the spilling and dumping of sewage into creeks, some located less than a mile from schools and residential and commercial neighborhoods. Most of these overflows come from manufacturing plants, food processing plants, and a private prison.

In 2013, BBC took on the challenge of forcing these industries, the city of Uniontown, and ADEM to comply with demands from the community regarding public health and safety. BBC accomplishes these actions through lawsuits, participating in public town hall meetings, organizing, activism, contacting targeted officials, and partnering with filmmakers and other nonprofits, such as Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide.

Uniontown is the site of sewage overflows and sewage sprayfields—areas where wastewater is left to percolate into the ground but can overflow into neighboring streets and houses. BBC has successfully blocked several proposed sprayfields, and is advocating for the construction of a wastewater treatment facility. Because Uniontown has a significant low-income population, BBC is also opposed to rate increases and residential water shutoffs.