“There is not an overall ‘clean-up process,’ but many investigations are still ongoing,” she said.
Another water source experiencing contamination is a classic Chapel Hill landmark, the Old Well. Martha Scott Tomlinson, a post-doctoral researcher at UNC, tested the water from the Old Well and found the iron level was over the state standard.
Tomlinson said this is a secondary standard and is not threatening to health — it just affects things like taste, odor and color.
The contamination is likely due to the way pipes are connected to the water supply and water sitting stagnant in the pipes, said Andrew George, the community engagement coordinator at UNC’s Institute for the Environment.
He said the issue can be resolved by fixing the pipes or the use of a water softener to reduce the acid.
NCDHHS has distributed 2200 well water testing kits so far, and 733 have been sent to the state lab for analysis, Mize said. These kits primarily test for total coliform and E. coli.
Total coliform is not necessarily dangerous and is in surface water, plants and many other areas. E. coli, however, is a sign that human or animal waste is present in the water and is hazardous, Mize said.
He said wells weren't built to be tested until 2008, so water contamination for older wells can't be attributed to Florence.
Overall, North Carolina had been working to fix and improve water quality even before Hurricane Florence, but the hurricane worsened the concerns, Simmons said.
“There are a lot of people with contaminated wells in North Carolina before the storms even hit, and then you add potential flooding inundation and other groundwater intrusion concerns with the flood and that just magnifies the problem,” George said.
In 2015, George joined the Well Empowered project of the Water Institute at UNC, and together they have been studying well water in the state for about nine years.
George said that before the hurricane, they had tested around 60 wells in Stokes and Wayne counties because they were near leaking coal ash impoundments and found a substantial amount of them contained contaminants.
The Well Empowered project partnered with a lab at Virginia Tech and earned a rapid response grant from the National Science Foundation to test wells in places impacted by the flooding.
The team chose New Hanover and Robeson counties to do their testing as they wanted places with concerns about coal ash, nitrates from CAFOs or naturally occurring metals.
George said the team is hoping to test 250 wells by mid-November in communities that are often overlooked and have never had their wells tested in order to determine if the water is contaminated, address it and look for the source of the contamination.
ZeroWater Filters, which are being used in Stokes and Wayne counties, are one of the only filters that have been proven to filter out contaminants including arsenic and lead. After the hurricane, the company donated and discounted filters for George and his team to distribute.
“The perfect storm of Hurricane Florence and all these wells hopefully will be matched by this incredible team of scientists, community members and citizen engagement folks like myself who can try to at least start us on a path toward better drinking water for North Carolinians,” George said.