News Feature | March 20, 2014

Salty Taste May Linger In NJ Tap Water After Icy Winter

By Sara Jerome
@sarmje

njsnowreg

As snow thaws across New Jersey, the water supply faces a seasonal threat: rock salt. 

"The big thaw will float the chemical into lakes and streams, threatening freshwater fish and posing a risk to the water supplies of millions, experts say," the Star-Ledger reported.

Part of problem is that weathering the tough winter required greater amounts of salt than previous years.

"The state Transportation Department has used more than 460,000 tons of salt — nearly an 80 percent increase over last winter — enough to season a large order of McDonald's French fries for every New Jerseyan every day for nearly 368 years," the report said. 

So much salt was needed that New Jersey ran low in its supplies. 

Salt sheds were "down to their final grains and a shortage [grew] so acute that local officials contemplated closing roadways and curtailing public bus routes," the New York Times reported

The result? Strange-tasting tap water for many ratepayers. But it is an even bigger deal for people who must avoid salt due to certain health conditions. As a result, "some water companies have warned customers their tap water could contain elevated sodium levels," the Star-Ledger reported.  

“We haven’t seen any real great concentration of either sodium or chloride in the water relative to prior years,” Steve Goudsmith, a spokesman for United Water New Jersey, said this week. “However, as you know, most of the ground is still frozen solid and we could see an uptick as the snow melts.”

Fish should be worried, too. "Environmentalists also say that salty waterways could spell trouble for marine life," CBS New York reported

"But the New Jersey Department of Environmental of Protection said road salt’s impact on the environment is generally minimal and quickly gets diluted in larger waterways," the report said. 

A study published by Maryland state officials examined the effects of road salt on environmental waters. 

"To start with, chloride can be harmful to many forms of aquatic life at concentrations of about 1,000 ppm. Unfortunately, chloride levels are above this level in many small streams and wetlands, at least for short periods of time in the winter. Recent research has documented the impacts of chlorides on stream, lake and wetland ecosystems in the Snow Belt states," the report said. 

Image credit: "Red Bank, New Jersey," flickr4jazz © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

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