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Environmental impacts of Hurricane Florence flooding in eastern North Carolina: temporal analysis of contaminant distribution and potential human health risks



Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina in September 2018 causing extensive flooding. Several potential point sources of hazardous substances and Superfund sites sustained water damage and contaminants may have been released into the environment.


This study conducted temporal analysis of contaminant distribution and potential human health risks from Hurricane Florence-associated flooding.


Soil samples were collected from 12 sites across four counties in North Carolina in September 2018, January and May 2019. Chemical analyses were performed for organics by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Metals were analyzed using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Hazard index and cancer risk were calculated using EPA Regional Screening Level Soil Screening Levels for residential soils.


PAH and metals detected downstream from the coal ash storage pond that leaked were detected and were indicative of a pyrogenic source of contamination. PAH at these sites were of human health concern because cancer risk values exceeded 1 × 10−6 threshold. Other contaminants measured across sampling sites, or corresponding hazard index and cancer risk, did not exhibit spatial or temporal differences or were of concern.


This work shows the importance of rapid exposure assessment following natural disasters. It also establishes baseline levels of contaminants for future comparisons.

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Fig. 1: Sampling locations and timeline.
Fig. 2: Summary of the hazardous contaminants from various chemical classes evaluated in this study.
Fig. 3: Data on PAH in soil samples from this study.
Fig. 4: Data on metal in soil samples from this study.
Fig. 5: Data on pesticides, industrial chemicals, and PCB in soil samples from this study.
Fig. 6: Map of two sampled coal ash pond locations and surrounding areas in south-eastern North Carolina.

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The authors wish to thank Dr. Elena Craft (Environmental Defense Fund) for assistance with sampling logistics. This work was funded, in part, by grants P42 ES027704, P30 ES029067, and T32 ES026568 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The use of specific commercial products in this work does not constitute endorsement by the funding agency.

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Correspondence to Ivan Rusyn.

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Aly, N.A., Casillas, G., Luo, YS. et al. Environmental impacts of Hurricane Florence flooding in eastern North Carolina: temporal analysis of contaminant distribution and potential human health risks. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 31, 810–822 (2021).

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