Social barriers to safe sanitation access among housed populations in the United States: A systematic review

Elsevier, International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Volume 257, April 2024
Kryston A., Woods C.G., Manga M.

Background: Nearly six million people residing in the United States do not have access to safely managed sanitation. Housed populations may lack access to centralized wastewater treatment systems or functioning onsite wastewater treatment systems, which subsequently places them at higher risk for adverse health outcomes associated with unsafe sanitation. Objectives: We sought to understand the various social barriers that impact access to safe sanitation in the United States. Methods: We included peer-reviewed studies published between January 2000 and March 2023. The publication search was conducted using Scopus, ProQuest Social Science Database, and HeinOnline. We extracted data on social barriers and physical factors associated with access to sanitation. Results: Twenty publications met the inclusion criteria, and data relating to 11 social barriers and two physical factors were extracted. The social barriers to safe sanitation access mentioned most frequently were found to be socioeconomic status and race-based discrimination. Studies discussed sanitation in communities in five states. Discussion: Barriers pertained to lack of access to centralized wastewater treatment system, inadequate repair or replacement of septic systems, and lack of safely managed onsite sanitation systems. We discuss the intersectionality of the barriers, the underlying policy and history that leads to them, and make recommendations to address inequitable access to safe sanitation. Legislation and policy must be critically reviewed at national, state, and local levels to limit or eliminate ability for utilities to be extended on the basis of a community's income and property values or racial makeup. Policy recommendations also include additional community engagement, onsite sanitation system monitoring, and knowledge dissemination and education of septic system users. More geographically diverse research and research on sanitation in specific communities such as those of migrant farmworkers, undocumented persons, and tenants are recommended.