2024 journal article

Shifting terrains: Understanding residential contaminants after flood disasters


By: B. Cutts n, O. Vila n, L. Bray n, A. Harris n, G. Hornsby n, H. Goins n, S. McLean n, M. Crites n ...

author keywords: Flood disaster; Hazard; Multiple hazards; North Carolina USA; Transdisciplinary; Social-ecological
Source: Web Of Science
Added: December 18, 2023

Flood disasters can induce the mass transport of soils and sediments. This has the potential to distribute contaminants and present novel combinations to new locations - including residential neighborhoods. Even when soil contaminants cannot be directly attributed to the disaster, data on bacterial and heavy metal(loids) can facilitate an environmentally just recovery by enabling reconstruction decisions that fill data gaps to minimize future exposure. These data-gathering interventions may be especially useful in poor, rural, and racially diverse communities where there is a high probability of exposure to multiple hazards and a potential dependency on the financial resources of disaster aid as a means of reducing chronic exposures to other environmental pollutants. At the same time, entering these post-disasters spaces is ethically complex. To acknowledge this complexity, we pilot a framework for work that gathers social-ecological hazard information while retaining a fair-minded approach to transdisciplinary work. Assembled a transdisciplinary team to recruit participants from 90 households subjected to flooding in the southeastern US. Participating households agreed to interviews to elicit flood experience and environmental health concerns, soil sampling for fecal bacteria (E. coli) and soil sampling for selected heavy metals and metalloids (Pb, As, Cd) at their flooded residence. Soil sampling found a wide range of E. coli concentrations in soil (0.4-1115.7 CFU/ dry gram). Heavy metal(loid)s were detected at most residences (As 97.9 %; Ca 25.5 %; Pb 100 %). Individually, heavy metal(loid) concentrations did not exceed regulatory thresholds. Hazard, risk, and mitigation concerns expressed during interviews reveal that integrated human-nature concepts complicate common understandings of how hazard perceptibility (smell, sight, touch, and information) affects research-action spaces. Qualitative analysis of interviews and field notes revealed that soil-related hazards addressed by our biophysical protocols were less salient than changes with direct causal associations with flooding. We conclude by discussing the potential for the social-ecological hazard information that is fair-minded and transdisciplinary (SHIFT) framework to advance environmentally just approaches to research-action spaces after disasters.