Road salt contaminating ground water, Virginia study finds

Ground Water Canada
December 11, 2017
By Ground Water Canada
Blacksburg, VA – Road salts commonly used in the winter to melt ice and keep roads clear are not being effectively absorbed by mitigation measures, allowing the salt to reach ground water and wells, says a Virginia Tech expert.

“Added salt in the water system can cause wells to stop providing potable water as well as change the taste and colour,” said Joel Snodgrass, head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech, in a news release.

Snodgrass and his research team recently published a study in Environmental Science and Technology. They discovered that routing runoff contaminated with road salts to stormwater ponds resulted in plumes of highly contaminated ground water moving from ponds to streams.

Elevated salt levels in ground water and surface water can have negative impacts on both people and wildlife, the release said.

“We know that surface water salt levels have been rising steadily for at least the past 30 years in Baltimore’s reservoirs and we know little about the effectiveness in reducing inputs of salt to surface waters,” Snodgrass said.

“Current stormwater management practices don’t completely stop chemicals from reaching streams and we have seen chemical contamination year round," he said.

Potential consequences of the contamination include people unknowingly drinking water containing sodium levels that exceed those recommended for people on low sodium diets, municipal water supplies requiring treatment to lower sodium and chloride levels before distribution.

“Some counties are already reimbursing people for the costs associated with replacing contaminated water wells,” Snodgrass said.

Of the impact on wildlife, he said,“You’re basically putting these animals in a desert, because they can’t regulate the salt in their bodies and get enough water to balance it out.

“If salt levels continue to increase in freshwater areas, many fish and amphibians will stop breeding and eventually die because their bodies cannot adjust to the change."

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