Road Salt Lawsuit Looms as Residents Fight Contamination

A potential lawsuit over road-salt contamination in the Adirondacks began gathering clients this fall.

Notices of claim have been filed on behalf of a dozen clients against the state and several Adirondack counties and towns that spread salt, generally on behalf of the state, seeking the cost of drilling new, uncontaminated wells, attorney Bill Owens said. “We’re really in the very early stages.”

The Adirondack Watershed Institute tested 358 wells and found that water from sixty-three wells—more than half of those that are downslope from state roads—contained sodium at levels above the federal guideline of 20 parts per million for people on low-sodium diets. The median level was 26 ppm, and the maximum was 748 ppm.

Dan Kelting, the institute’s director at Paul Smith’s College, said Adirondack water usually contains less than 1 ppm of sodium and less than 0.5 ppm of chloride when the source is away from roads.

He said the study shows that road salt from state highways is contaminating wells and surface aquifers in the Adirondacks. In the past, the institute has found road salt in high concentrations in many Adirondacks lakes and streams.

New York’s Health Department has retested some wells where residents requested it.

The department “offered confirmatory testing of salt levels in private wells to 351 homeowners in the Adirondack region and 28 homeowners responded to have their wells tested,” spokeswoman Erin Silk said Thursday. She didn’t disclose results, saying they are being finalized to share with those homeowners.

New York spent about $214 million for salt in the last snowplowing year, according to New York’s Office of General Services. State agencies and authorities, local governments, school districts and other authorized users can buy it from centralized OGS contracts. They have bought some 3.6 million tons for the coming winter.

New York’s salt contractors in the Adirondack region include Cargill, Apalachee, Compass Minerals, and American Rock Salt.

In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $400,000 in state economic development grants for American Rock Salt’s expansion in Livingston County, south of Rochester, saying that would help retain 300 jobs and create fifty-five new positions at the largest U.S. salt mine.

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