Hurricane floods pose risk to environment, health, new research on 1999 storm reveals

CHAPEL HILL Flooding from hurricanes such as Floyd, which dumped up to 20 inches of water on parts of eastern North Carolina, poses a significant threat to both environmental and human health by washing industrial animal operation wastes into areas with vulnerable populations, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers, involved analyzing satellite images of the region recorded a week after the 1999 hurricane to see how many animal operations appear to have been affected. Researchers say their findings suggest that many more livestock operations were flooded than previous N.C. Division of Water Quality records had indicated.

Significant chemical and biological contamination of wells, the chief source of drinking water for many area residents, is a particular concern when contamination from fecal waste pits, spray fields and animal confinement structures reaches nearby communities, researchers said. No good data on the extent of any adverse health effects exist, however.

A report on the research will appear in the April issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Authors are Dr. Steven B. Wing, associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health; former graduate student Stephanie Freedman; and Dr. Lawrence Band, Voit Gilmore distinguished professor of geography.

In the area we studied, state inspectors found 46 flooded or breached waste pits, but in our interactions with various communities and environmental groups, people had the impression that there were potentially many more than that, Wing said. When the N.C. Division of Emergency Management obtained digitized satellite imagery of eastern North Carolina taken in 1999 a week after the rains fell, we had an opportunity to investigate. We already had data on where the state had issued permits for swine, ca

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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