Testing and cleaning North Carolina’s water supply post-Florence could prove tricky. A microbiologist explains why

By Frankie Schembri

Hurricane Florence dropped record-breaking amounts of rain as it hovered over the Carolinas last week. The resulting floodwaters killed dozens of people and created a lingering crisis for drinking water supplies. Across North Carolina, lagoons full of livestock waste, enclosures full of dead chickens and hogs, raw sewage from wastewater treatment plants, and coal ash ponds are all overflowing. The Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement on Monday that at least 23 drinking water systems in the state had temporarily halted their operations and that 21 others were operating with boil water advisories.

Rachel Noble, a microbiologist at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and her team are working to track potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses as they flow through North Carolina’s water system. She told Science about poststorm threats to drinking water and how to cut down on the dangerous lag time in the tests that detect them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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