Dispatches from the field: Duke Superfund conducts water sampling after Hurricane Florence

Dr. Abigail Joyce


By Abigail Joyce, PhD — Analytical Chemistry Core Manager


As Hurricane Florence approached North Carolina’s coast, much of state hunkered down for the severe weather to come. Though some locations were somewhat spared, the storm brought as much as 30 inches of rain to some coastal communities in North Carolina. As the storm moved inland over the weekend, millions of gallons of water fell across the more western portions of North and South Carolina. Rivers throughout the western parts of the states, swollen from many inches of rainfall, brought even more water back to the already hard hit areas of North Carolina, leading to catastrophic levels of flooding across the southeastern part of the state. This flood water poses new risks with respect to the spread of biological and chemical pollutants from populated and agricultural areas.


On September 19, as the storm waned, Duke Superfund Investigator Lee Ferguson and I went out in the field to sample flood water along the Neuse River and at three sites along the Trent River while the waters were near their crest. We started sampling along the Neuse River in Raleigh and followed the Neuse River down to the South River Estuary at Cherry Point. We took ten grab samples from the surface of the river, and in some cases a flooded street, then extracted them in our laboratory for non-targeted organic chemical analysis. These techniques, developed in Dr. Ferguson’s lab, will allow for detection of many known pollutants in the area as well as pollutants that are not known or monitored.


We were out at the same locations to repeat our sampling on October 10, after the rivers and flood waters had receded. This second sampling event will give insight into how the chemical loads and spatial trends observed in the September 19 samples might have changed over time, with respect to flood extent, and how they might be related to the impacts of Hurricane Florence. We look forward to learning more about our sample results and ways to best share the information with affected communities.

Dr. Lee Ferguson