Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) support local economies but are associated with air, surface and groundwater pollution. Community-level management of pollution-related health risks requires (i) a local capacity to identify at-risk neighborhoods and (ii) an understanding of how community defensive investments into physical capital and natural capital relate to one another in their capacity to reduce human exposure to contaminants. Such community-based responses to health externalities recognize that command-and- control style upstream regulation may be less cost effective and potentially more harmful to downstream communities when livelihoods depend critically on local industries. Community-led mitigation of human health risks must make targeted investments into public infrastructure and natural capital to expand the flows of public services and ecosystem services to at-risk households. Our research will identify health-vulnerability hotspots and natural capital hotspots, located within our six study area counties, based on temporal and atemporal stressors that will provide residents a basis of information with which to make defensive investments in (i) the targeted expansion of public services to at-risk neighborhoods and (ii) the maintenance of those local ecosystems most critical to supporting community health.

Rural residents’ self-protections to perceived and actual contamination risk in private drinking wells after Hurricane Florence

Recommended for funding by the National Science Foundation in Oct. 2018 through Nov. 2019


Hurricane Florence dumped 8 trillion gallons of rain on North Carolina. Duplin and Sampson Counties, which lead the nation in pork production (#1 and #2) and poultry production (#2 and #3), were among the most affected areas receiving 20+ inches of rainfall, catastrophic flooding and hurricane force winds. Few residents in the two rural counties have access to a public water supply and therefore rely on groundwater wells. Inundated wells, and those wells downstream of the state’s 3,000+ open waste lagoons, are at severe risk of contamination from coliform bacteria and nitrate. The extent to which this environmental exposure occurs depends on residents’ capacities to perceive, but not necessarily confirm, this risk and respond with appropriate efforts to protect themselves (e.g. purchasing bottled water, boiling water, installing water filtration systems, etc.). The rate at which wells become polluted following a storm event, the time required for the wells to return potable water and the actions taken by homeowners to protect themselves in the interim all remain unknown.