The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday that it will launch a federal civil rights investigation over the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi.
The NAACP requested a federal investigation in late September over suspicions that the Mississippi Department of Health and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality discriminated against Jackson’s majority Black population in its response to the water crisis this summer, CNN reported.
The EPA said in its announcement that it will investigate whether the state organizations “discriminated against the majority Black population of the city of Jackson on the basis of race in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities.”
The city has approximately 150,000 residents, 83% of whom are Black, according to The Associated Press. Roughly a quarter of Jackson’s population lives in poverty.
The announcement was made two days after leaders of two different congressional committees said they were launching a joint investigation into the water crisis that left 180,000 residents without water during late August and early September.
The EPA will look into whether the state agencies violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits “discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs.”
“What’s at stake is an opportunity for the residents to be ensured that the state will be held accountable for denying them clean, safe drinking water,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson, per NBC News.
Liz Sharlot, director of communications for the Mississippi State Department of Health, told ABC News, “The Mississippi State Department of Health is a regulatory agency that ensures compliance, offers education and guidance, and protects the public health safety of all Mississippians.”
Jackson suffered an intense water shortage during the summer due to severely damaged main water pumps. Residents could not safely drink tap water and were put on a boil-water notice for over 40 days between August and September.
“We believe that all citizens of this country should be entitled to clean, fresh drinking water,” Johnson said, according to The Associated Press. “Unfortunately, we live in a state that is still dealing in racial politics. And as a result of that, you have state leaders who seek to penalize African American residents of the city of Jackson in a very discriminatory way.”