An official website of the United States government.

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

RAPID: Collaborative Research: Assessing Chemical and Microbiological Contamination in Environmental Waters in Eastern North Carolina after Hurricane Florence


Hurricane Florence passed through southeast North Carolina in 2018 resulting in widespread flooding. The counties most affected by flooding house thousands of swine and poultry confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These areas are also home to many low-income, African American, Hispanic, and American Indian communities. The objective of this research is to study the spread of contaminants into the environment caused by Hurricane floodwaters. The pollutants assessed include heavy metals from coal ash, emerging chemical contaminants related to industrial and municipal wastewater, and pathogens and nutrients associated with CAFOs. This project will result in improved understanding of the risks posed by extreme flooding. Local communities affected by the flooding will be engaged in this research through the identification of sampling sites and communication of research results. The results will have broader impact through the identification of waste management operations that can be modified to prevent such releases in future flooding events.<br/><br/>The central aim of this work is to assess microbial and chemical contamination of the environment near livestock and industrial operations flooding caused by Hurricane Florence floodwaters. A secondary aim is to understand the relative impacts of different land-usage and livestock waste management practices on contaminant loading. To achieve these aims, this research project has the following objectives: (1) Collect samples to quantify spatiotemporal variability in molecular targets for microbial contamination (i.e., human-, poultry-, and swine-specific fecal microbial source tracking targets and antimicrobial resistance genes), nutrients (N and P), heavy metals, and chemical contaminants of emerging concern; (2) Identify spatial relationships between contamination, flooding extent, land-use (e.g., CAFO densities, industrial sites, urban areas) and manure management practices using satellite imagery and machine learning techniques; (3) Assess persistence of biological and chemical species in the natural environment post-flooding. To achieve these objectives, the research team will sample across 50 sites in multiple coastal plain river basins where intense flooding occurred after Hurricane Florence to map advanced chemical and biological water quality indicators in high spatial resolution. The team sampled within a week after the hurricane, and then will sample after ~1 month, ~2 months, and ~6 months. Knowledge gained from this study will directly inform improvements to emergency management protocols post-hurricane in landscapes with many contaminant sources. The work will have broader impact through the promulgation of waste management recommendations that account for the increasing likelihood and severity of extreme flooding events expected in the future as our climate changes.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Diego Riveros-iregui; Stewart, Jill R
University of North Carolina
Start date
End date
Project number