By Michael Virtanen and Mike Lynch
A new study shows runoff from decades of road salting in the Adirondacks polluted more of half of the wells tested downslope from state roads and highways.
Testing by the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute found 63 wells, or some 55 percent that got runoff from state roads, had sodium at levels above the federal guideline, exceeding 20 parts per million. The median level was 26 and the maximum was 748 ppm.
“The actual number of wells that are contaminated is way, way more than what we sampled,” said Dan Kelting, institute executive director. “So it is a much bigger issue.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency says a large body of evidence suggests that excessive sodium intake contributes to age-related increases in blood pressure, which carries an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, renal insufficiency, and peripheral vascular diseases.
The EPA guideline is 20 ppm.
On Wednesday, the state Department of Transportation announced pilot programs to cut its use of salt on some stretches of road by Lake George and Mirror Lake.
Meanwhile, attorney Bill Owens in Plattsburgh said he’s in an “exploratory” phase of a possible lawsuit by affected landowners against the state for contaminating their wells. Possible relief could include getting new water lines or desalination systems and bottled water in the meantime, he said.
The study was funded by AdkAction, a nonprofit group founded by permanent and seasonal Adirondack Park residents, and the Fund for Lake George.
Well samples sent in from 358 volunteers from all around the Adirondack Park were tested, most from the eastern half, many from the regions around the Saranac Lakes and North Creek.
The testing found only 10 percent with elevated levels among 112 that were downslope and getting runoff from local roads, where less or no salt is used against icing.
None exceeded health guidance levels among the 132 wells that were upslope of the state or local roadways, where there was no road runoff. That median was 3 ppm and the maximum was 17.
Almost 193,000 tons of salt are spread on highways and local roads annually in the Adirondacks to help protect drivers from skidding on ice, with almost seven million tons of sodium chloride spread and joining runoff into waterways and wells since 1980, according to Kelting.
Most of the Adirondack road salt, about 110,000 tons annually, is applied to state roads and highways, according to Kelting. They comprise only about one-fourth of the Adirondacks’ total roadways, but often have higher speed limits than local roads, many of which are plowed and sanded or just plowed, he said.
State officials have been briefed and examined the study, Kelting said. The state Department of Health has offered to test for free the well water of affected homeowners and begun doing that, he said.
Jim McCulley says
The salt used is so out of control. I followed a truck this year that was laying it down heavier than the snow. Unfortunately, the Village of Lake Placid and North Elba are now in competition with the state to see who can lay more salt. Why? Most roads have a 30 mph speed limit under good conditions.
Steve Saviski says
… Not just the Adirondacks , Here in SAt. Lawrence cty ,they are out way before a storm and all the way through and all it does is makes the road slushy and more dangerous along with rotting out your cars body.. Fourtunitly we live away from the road far enough our well is good, Long past time to go back to straight sand. The roads and environment will be a lot better off..!
How is this a surprise? Road salt is bad for anyone who doesn’t make money selling or spreading it, heck many places in AK, which has real mountains, do just fine only using sand. The road salt needs to go.
David Colchamiro says
Your interesting article in today’s Times Union, “Study: Road salt tainted wells”, led me to find my copy of NY’s “The Adirondack Park in the Twenty First Century”.
It was published under the auspices of Peter A. Berle in April, 1990. I was the NYS Dept of Transportation’s liaison to Berle’s Commission. We did a very extensive study of road salts and other treatments and included that in our submission to the Commission.
The Commission Report Recommendation # 208, page 85, says “An APA/APS/DOT task force should study the environmental impacts of road salt, sand and other de-icing materials and its finding should be used in developing a new DOT policy for the Adirondack Park that minimizes the adverse environmental impacts of road treatment”.
I don’t know if such a task force was created or if the Commission’s recommendation was otherwise followed up by NYSDOT.
Eric Thompson says
I live in Lake clear New York and I would like to know if I can get my water tested also to see if it is contaminated with the salt run off
Bill Miner says
I live on the NW edge of the park. The DOT trucks dump way too much salt on RT 3. Many times there was no need (in my opinion). I have seen where the DOT trucks were dumping salt on the state highway while the town roads received no work. The light snow blew off the town roads while the state highway was a mess.