Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Advocates: State Responsible for Polluting Adirondack Wells

road saltLake George Waterkeeper Chris Navitsky has called road salt “the acid rain of our time.”

Now, a newly-completed study of Adirondack wells claims that most wells that receive runoff from state roads are contaminated with salt.

The study conducted by the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute comes on the heels of an earlier study that argued that 84% of the contamination of surface waters by road salting could be attributed to state practices.

The study sampled nearly 400 private wells from across the Adirondack Park. The wells were divided into categories based on whether they received no road runoff, local road runoff, or state road runoff. Sodium levels in more than half of the wells receiving state road runoff exceeded New York State’s water quality guideline of 20 ppm (compared to 10% of wells that receive local road runoff). Chloride levels in 25% of wells that receive state road runoff exceeded the water quality guideline of 250 ppm, while none of the wells that receive local road runoff exceeded that level.

New York State’s Department of Transportation relies mainly on pure road salt (sodium chloride) for winter road maintenance, using more than any other state. Local crews mainly use abrasives, like sand, with a smaller amount of salt to keep the sand from clumping.

In a statement sent to the press, well study participant Kirk Peterson said “The contamination of our well with road salt has cost us thousands of dollars in ruined appliances and corroded pipes. We can’t operate a dishwasher and have to replace faucets and other plumbing fixtures regularly because of corrosion caused by the salt. We’ve also had to replace most of our copper pipes and have been buying water to drink because of the adverse impact on our health. And now we worry about being unable to sell our house. We will hold the state fully responsible for these problems.”

Scientists, local officials, community organizations, and citizen activists has been pressuring the state for change to their salt practices for years. It’s believed that the NYS Department of Transportation (DOT) maintains about 25% of the Adirondack road network.

DOT recently began two pilot programs in the Adirondacks to reduce the application of road salt, at Mirror Lake and Lake George.  The Mirror Lake project include 16-miles along State Route 86 from Old Military Road through North Elba and Wilmington and the Village of Lake Placid. The pilot program at Lake George spans about 17 miles of Route 9N from the Village to the Town of Bolton.

In addition, DOT, DEC and the Department of Health have established a working group, which includes participating municipalities, and organizations such as AdkAction and the Lake George Waterkeeper, to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot programs.

Brittany Christensen, Executive Director of AdkAction, a non-profit that has been advocating for a reduction in the use of road salt since 2010, wants the state to move faster.

“While we appreciate being invited to participate in the strategic working group and acknowledge that the pilots in Lake George and Lake Placid are a step in the right direction, we must insist that the state take a stronger stance to protect Adirondack waters,” a statement issued by Christensen said.

“Based on the study, more than half of private wells located along state roads are likely contaminated with road salt, and we want the state to reexamine its entire winter road maintenance protocol and use the entire Adirondack Park as a pilot area for statewide reduction.”

The salt study was funded by AdkAction, The FUND for Lake George, and Paul Smiths College Adirondack Watershed Institute.

Photo courtesy Phil Romans.

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14 Responses

  1. Charlie S says:

    “…a newly-completed study of Adirondack wells claims that most wells that receive runoff from state roads are contaminated with salt.”

    This comes as no surprise. I saw a fairly new pickup truck at George’s Collision last week that had its whole body underneath eaten away due to salt in the roads. My truck is eaten away. The state ought to pay for this since they allow it. They are way overkill with road salt every winter thanks in part probably due to insurance related matters.If there’s a threat of even a dusting of snow the trucks are out spreading salt, especially in the private lots such as Walmart, etc. If salt can erode metal imagine what it can do to the roots of trees, or plant life in general, or water….or wells! It’s a shame the way we’re going. Way too ahead of ourselves with no clear vision for the future unless that future is tied to the earning of profits!

  2. Gbear says:

    Funny, everything you mentioned, from vehicle repair to civil servants spreading the dreaded salt, relies on profit.

  3. Charlie S says:

    A coincidence maybe hey Gbear?

  4. Todd Eastman says:

    Who are the primary suppliers of road salt to NYS?

    Follow the $$$…

    • Paul says:

      Probably Cargill. NYS has some pretty large salt mines. Two near Cayuga and Seneca Lake. One of the largest in the world is in Ontario so maybe that is where the northern NY salt comes from. Slapping some tariffs on there could drive the business down to the finger lakes?

  5. Justin Farrell says:

    And yet, many trailheads in the Adirondacks still don’t even get plowed out for skiers & snowshoers during the winter months…

  6. Paul says:

    So it looks like one of the reduced salt use areas is “the notch”. That could get interesting next winter. I guess if you can reduce it there w/o too much trouble you could do it anywhere. Have to see how many ski buses end up on their sides!

    What kind of wells are these? If they are open to surface run off you shouldn’t be drinking the water anyway?

  7. The VAST Brown Fields leaching into Lake George and tributaries to Champlain and many other Pollution Sources goes way way way BEYOND Road Salt. The more serious issue however is Radiological Rocks and Wells contaminated with Radiation in the area. The USGS and DOD did Radiation studies on Adirondacks Rock decades ago. I would suggest SALT is but a fraction of the problem with wells in the area. See The Lakes Issues is HUGE.

    Swamp Fox

    • Boreas says:

      Salt usage patterns can be changed – perhaps improving well water quality. Gonna be hard to deal with radiation, if indeed it is a problem.

      • Paul says:

        Well if the facts are at “the adirondack conspiracy” they must be accurate! That is a classic. You gotta love the internet. This is a great example of how a bogus piece of information gets spread around.

  8. Boreas says:

    Well, he ain’t wrong – there is radiation here. But there is radiation virtually everywhere. The question is what type, how much, and – most importantly – what is considered “safe”? It only takes one particle to mess up a DNA strand, but we have the ability to repair DNA to some extent. So cumulative dosages are critical to assess and then to apply to some arbitrary standard of safety. Salt is simpler to study, but evidently no less controversial to some.

    • Paul says:

      People these days only read the headlines, the details don’t matter to the vast majority of the population. Most people will probably read the first sentence of your comment and the conspiracy grows! People used to trust experts but now everyone is an expert and is capable of reaching millions and billions of others. I studied DNA repair in graduate school so I am pretty well versed there.

  9. Kenneth Seymour says:

    Is this the same way that you make hard water soft or is that a different Sodium?

    • Boreas says:

      Same stuff. Typical road salt is mostly sodium chloride (NaCl). Same with softener salt. When salt is put in water, it (dissolves) dissociates into two ions called sodium and chloride. Water softeners don’t simply mix salt and water per se. Rather, these ions get spread over a medium (tiny glass or resin beads) and react with undesirable ions in the water and hold them in the media, which is back-flushed on regular intervals to remove them and start the process over again. It isn’t like the salt is going directly into the water – you wouldn’t be able to drink it at high concentrations.

      Most animals require a certain amount of salt (for blood electrolytes, etc.) in their diet, but the requirement is different for each organism. The ability to filter out excess amounts of dietary salt also vary by organism. As one example, in humans, excess sodium (Na) is associated with elevated blood pressure – so if it is in high concentrations in drinking water, it could cause health problems.

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