KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Assessing The Contamination Brought By Flooding

Sep 20, 2018
Originally published on September 20, 2018 5:29 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The flooding from Hurricane Florence washed over livestock farms. And when it did - and this will make some people cringe - the floodwaters swept away many animals and their waste, all of which ended up in rivers such as the Cape Fear River. Kemp Burdette is the Cape Fear River Keeper, a position he was given by an environmental nonprofit group, and he's on the line. Good morning.

KEMP BURDETTE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you seen as you've toured the area?

BURDETTE: I flew yesterday in a small plane over parts of the Cape Fear watershed, and widespread damage, widespread flooding. Floodwaters are still rising in some areas. I saw numerous swine lagoons that had been completely inundated and overtopped by floodwaters. I saw two lagoons that had failed altogether and emptied their contents entirely into floodwaters.

INSKEEP: Swine lagoons - we're talking about giant, giant pits of animal waste. Is that right?

BURDETTE: Exactly. Estimates are that these two lagoons held about 7 million gallons of untreated swine feces. And when they emptied their contents into waterways that were flooded, of course, those flooded waters are going to move downstream across the communities that are flooded there, as well.

INSKEEP: Is it possible at this early date to test the water to determine what effect that has had?

BURDETTE: It's very difficult to access eastern North Carolina right now. There are many bridges that have been washed away entirely, roadways that are undercut. It's dangerous to be out now. We are working as quickly as possible to get out and sample these waters.

INSKEEP: OK. So it's not really possible to know scientifically what's going on, but you know in terms of what seems to have washed into the Cape Fear River and the streams that flow into the Cape Fear River. What would your estimate be based on what you know about the safety of that water and the condition of that water?

BURDETTE: The water is not safe at all. I would expect to see extremely high levels of dangerous bacteria. And I also know that this water is coming into contact with communities that are flooded and that that's going to be a real problem as kind of things evolve.

INSKEEP: OK. So, yeah. What does this mean for people returning home? First, people who might wade back to their half-flooded house, but also just people who might return to a house after the water goes down? What do they have to think about?

BURDETTE: Well, in many cases, houses are completely submerged. Everything in the house has soaked in these floodwaters - the insulation, the carpet, the walls. People are going to be returning home. They're going to want to secure their homes. They're going to want to start to rebuild and repair, and there's lots of cuts and scrapes that go on in that. And so as people are wading around in this water and splashing this water up onto their face and things like that and this water's getting into their cuts and scrapes, it's going to be very dangerous. There's going to be a lot of opportunities for people to get sick. This stuff is going to be in these houses, perhaps for extended periods of time, as people start to tear out sheet rock and insulation and things like that.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, has this affected you personally?

BURDETTE: It has. My house is flooded, as well. And so I live downstream from some of these facilities, as well, in Pender County. So I will be doing some of this kind of work myself.

INSKEEP: Well, be safe as you do that.

BURDETTE: Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Kemp Burdette is the Cape Fear Riverkeeper. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.