Well water and road salt in Orleans, NY

The Town of Orleans in Upstate New York, near the St. Lawrence River, is a small town with less than 2,800 residents and is in the heart of the Thousand Islands area. For years, the residents have been struggling with high chloride concentrations in the groundwater, which have been attributed to a New York State Department of Transportation salt barn on Route 12. For more background on the road salt , check out the Watertown Daily Times’ article “The problem with salt: road salt contamination a plague across the state” and the North County Public Radio’s article “Orleans homeowners living with contaminated water blame the DOT“.

Andy Greene holding the corroded rear drum from his washing machine.

Testing conducted by the Town of Orleans in 2013 revealed that the 50 private wells sampled had a median chloride level of 176 mg/L and high of 1,080 mg/L. The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) established a secondary aesthetic standard for chloride concentrations of 250 mg/L. Seven of these wells (14%) also had lead levels above the US EPA action level of 15 µg/L. The US EPA does not regulate private wells, so these standards only apply to municipal water utilities, but are typically recommended as guidelines to private well communities.

After learning about the elevated chloride and lead levels observed during the Flint Water Crisis, the residents reached out to Virginia Tech to help them figure out whether the chlorides in the groundwater in Orleans could also mobilize lead in the residents’ home plumbing network. This is a collaborative research project between Virginia Tech and well users in the Town of Orleans aims to understand drinking water quality in private wells in the Orleans area and examine the impact of road salt on the corrosion well water infrastructure.

For details about our trip to the Town of Orleans in December 2017, check out our Community Meeting page.

Orleans, NY contact: Stephanie Weiss

Virginia Tech contacts:  Kelsey Pieper / Min Tang / Nathan Jones