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NC Communities Grappling with Floods, Racial Disparities in Water Quality

The cost of damage from flooding, storm surges and high winds in North Carolina's coastal communities has skyrocketed in the past five years. (Adobe Stock)
The cost of damage from flooding, storm surges and high winds in North Carolina's coastal communities has skyrocketed in the past five years. (Adobe Stock)
April 30, 2019

DURHAM, N.C. — A new report finds increased flooding from climate change and racial disparities in water quality are some of the most urgent environmental issues facing North Carolina communities in the coming decade. Data from the report shows the cost of damage from flooding, storm surges and high winds to North Carolina's coastal communities has skyrocketed in the past five years.

Julie DeMeester studies floodplains and storm resiliency. She said state and local governments now are focusing on climate-change resiliency by buying out vulnerable, flood-prone land and buffering coastlines to lessen the impact of severe storms.

"And we can start to use satellite imagery to look at what has flooded repeatedly. And once you see what has flooded repeatedly, you can go in and say what's vulnerable,” DeMeester said. “What I like to go in thinking about is where can we do the best protection and restoration work to try and help communities that might experience flooding in the future."

The report also found that people of color in North Carolina, particularly black and Native American residents, are dying at younger ages compared with white residents. Disparities in water quality is emerging as a key contributor to health declines in these communities.

Jackie MacDonald Gibson is a professor in the department of environmental science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Her research has shown that some black communities in North Carolina were historically excluded from the municipal water supply, and remain so today. She said it's a hidden problem.

"People who have a connection to a well-run, regulated municipal water supply can be ensured that their water supply is being tested for lead,” MacDonald Gibson said. “We've been looking at contributions to chronic conditions or acute illnesses like really bad acute gastrointestinal illnesses. I've been looking at the influence on children's blood lead."

MacDonald Gibson said residents of historically excluded communities often use water from private wells. This means their water supply is not being monitored for lead and other contaminants known to cause health problems.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC