Salt from snow may affect quality of tap water for NJ residents
New Jersey residents may taste salty water coming out of their taps, said the New Jersey American Water Company in a press release on its website.
Lisa Galloway Evrard, senior program coordinator for the water resources program for Rutgers Cooperative Extension, said the salt accumulated on the roads from this winter’s snow has a tendency to flow into the local waterways.
This could increase the salinity of drinking water, potentially affecting people with high blood pressure and also leaving a salty taste.
“New Jersey [residents] may experience a mild salty taste to the water for a short period of time,” according to the press release. “Our customers’ drinking water continues to meet all state and federal drinking water standards.”
According to the official website of New Jersey, with a higher amount of salt on the roads, there would be a greater threat to the environment and people with hypertension.
A combined total of 61 inches of snow fell over the course of 14 storms, said Dianne Gravatt, director of Environmental Services and Grounds at Rutgers University. Each of these storms required de-icing to ensure safe travel.
The constant temperature flux in New Jersey also led to several freezing and thawing cycles, requiring multiple applications of salt and other ice-melting materials to roads.
A vegetable brine solution is often used to pre-treat roads and other hard surfaces before snowfall, she said. This makes it easier to clear roads by preventing snow and ice from bonding to the surfaces.
According to the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s website, a brine solution may last for several days on a road, depending on traffic.
Road salt, also known as sodium chloride, may be used in conjunction with liquid calcium chloride or a brine solution to enhance its effectiveness, according to the website. An unspecified chemical freeze point suppressant is also used to prevent ice buildup.
Salt products were not excessively used, but due to the lack of liquid precipitation and relatively minor snowmelts, a large amount has remained on road shoulders and the ground, Gravatt said. Roads have a white tint at the moment due to this leftover salt, which increases its chances to flow into the waterways.
University Facilities combines road salt with cinders or sand to dilute it. This allows them to cover a greater area with less salt, which became important with the recent salt shortage in New Jersey.
NJDOT can store more than 160,000 tons of salt in its facilities, according its website. These facilities were emptied several times over the last winter.
Spring rains will carry the accumulated salt into storm water basins, Evrard said. The eventual destination for these basins is local rivers and lakes, implying that local wildlife could be at risk.
“Salt-contaminated runoff from roadways can damage nearby trees and shrubs,” she said. “It can also harm or kill aquatic life, including fish, amphibians and aquatic plants.”
New Jersey’s official website said young fish specifically were at risk of dying due to increased chloride levels caused by road salt dissolving in water.
Chloride levels have exceeded the benchmarks set by the Environmental Protection Agency in the past, according to the website.
The extent of the impact to roadside vegetation in those situations has not been determined.
According to the press release, the state would be using more of its groundwater storage facilities to supply water to its customers for the time being. It will also try to avoid surface water supplies until the sodium and chloride that dissolved in them is flushed out.
Road salt also has corrosive properties, Evrard said. Salty water may damage metal pipes.
Ice melting products may damage the undercarriage areas of cars, Gravatt said. People should wash their cars after storms to minimize the damage road salt and other solutions may cause.
According to the website, bridges and electrical fixtures may also be negatively impacted. The cost of repairing infrastructure in the state has been as high as $8 million in the past.