Saturday, September 23, 2023

UNCW mass spectrometers ‘appear unscathed’ after Florence, but GenX testing will be delayed

The Bruker micrOTOF-Q II HR MS w/ Agilent 1290 Infinity UHPLC, one of two mass spectrometers located in Dobo Hall, which was badly damaged in Hurricane Florence. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy UNCW)
The Bruker micrOTOF-Q II HR MS w/ Agilent 1290 Infinity UHPLC, one of two mass spectrometers located in Dobo Hall, which was badly damaged in Hurricane Florence. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy UNCW)

WILMINGTON — Despite severe damage to University of North Carolina Wilmington Dobo Hall, two mass spectrometers enlisted in the testing for emerging contaminants – including GenX – have apparently survived. They will, however, have to be relocated, a delicate process that will delay the testing process.

UNCW suffered at least $140 million dollars in damage from Hurricane Florence. One of the most badly damaged buildings, the damage to Dobo Hall was described by UNCW Chancellor Jose Sartarelli as “extensive” but “not irreversible,” after the storm damage was surveyed.

Housed in the building are two mass spectrometers, both used for GenX testing under the Safe Water Act, which provided funding to a consortium of public and private universities to test North Carolina waterways for a family of fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS.

‘As far as we know,’ equipment is intact

According to Aswani Volety, dean of students for UNCW’s College of Arts and Sciences, early inspections show the mass spectrometers are intact.

“From our best guesstimate and visual inspection, the mass specs, etc., are not damaged. We need to ensure proper space and electrical requirements before we try to move these. As with any high-end science instrumentation we work with the manufacturer’s tech Ian to properly disassemble, move, reassemble and calibrate to ensure optimal working,” Volety said.

Professor Paulo Almeida chair of UNCW’s Chemistry and Biochemistry Department added that the full status of the mass spectrometers – and all the equipment in Dobo Hall – won’t be known until they are relocated and tested.

“As far as we know (and we won’t know for sure until we move the instruments and test them in the new location), the instruments are fine. All care possible was taken to prevent their damage from the storm, and they appear to have made it unscathed,” Almeida said.

According to Almedia and Volety, UNCW is currently working with the manufactures equipment, as those companies are the only ones with the necessary technical proficiency to safely and effectively disassemble, move, reassemble, and test the equipment.

Delays for GenX testing

The process will take longer, Almeida said, but the delays outweigh the risks of rushing the move.

“We are now taking the necessary time and precautions to have them moved by the manufacturer, which is the only company competent to do so. As with any specialized work, it takes longer and requires careful planning. But it is entirely worthwhile to go through this route. Otherwise, we risk that a hasty move will do to the instruments the damage that the storm did not,” Almeida said.

The move will delay GenX research, Almeida said, adding that those delays were unavoidable.

“Research will necessarily suffer an impact, in the sense that it will proceed slower than planned. That is not avoidable. We are actually lucky that adequate space was found (in MARBIONC) to relocate researchers and instruments. Had that space not been available to us, we would be in a much worse situation. The storm is an act of God, and we simply had to do our best under the situation. That is exactly what we are doing. More is simply not possible,” Almeida said.

UNCW plans to move the mass spectrometers to the University’s MARBIONC campus, located approximately 7.5 miles to the south, on the Intracoastal across from Masonboro Island. Details on the timeline and cost of the move are not yet available.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.

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