COLLINS LANDING — A state-owned salt storage facility that residents claim has been polluting well water in the town of Orleans had experienced salt contamination in its own water supply for years.
Four water sample test results provided to the Times that date between 2004 and 2018 showed that the former water supply at the state Department of Transportation salt barn exhibited high levels of chloride, a key component in salt that can corrode plumbing and home appliances, and sodium.
Chloride levels in each sample exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s secondary standard for limiting the chemical compound in drinking water, which is 250 milligrams per liter. Three out of the four samples had chloride levels that equalled between eight and almost 10 times the threshold. According to the EPA, its nonenforceable standard provides guidance to limit contaminants that can change the smell, color, or taste of water or cause cosmetic alterations in people such as tooth or skin discoloration.
Glenn Blain, associate director of communications with the state DOT, wrote in an email that the salt barn previously obtained water from an on-site well until the facility was connected to a municipal water line along Route 12 in recent years. The well is where the samples were collected from over the years.
“Due to multiple sources of possible contamination, the New York State Department of Transportation, in collaboration with DEC (the state Department of Environmental Conservation) and DOH (the state Department of Health), has not identified the specific source of the chloride in the sample tests from the facility,” he wrote. “There was and remains no conclusive evidence that ties the Collins Landing maintenance facility to the contamination of private wells in the area.”
Researchers from Virginia Tech and other institutions who uncovered the water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., have been trying to pinpoint the source of the salt contamination in Orleans through research since 2016. They also have been assessing the corrosion exhibited in residents’ appliances. One of the researchers, Kelsey J. Pieper, obtained the DOT water samples through a Freedom of Information Law request to the department.
The oldest sample test, conducted in 2004, revealed that the well water at the salt barn exhibited chloride levels of 2,400 milligrams-per-liter, almost 10 times above the EPA secondary standard. The next test conducted in 2009 found the well had chloride levels of 270 milligrams-per-liter, while the following test conducted in 2015 showed levels of 2,120 milligrams-per-liter and the most recent test of the four, conducted in 2018, showed levels of 2,190 milligrams per liter. Ms. Pieper, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, said the chloride levels in the salt barn water supply were higher than any wells in Orleans that her team sampled. The research team continues to assess the water samples, which Ms. Pieper said will help their ongoing research. She said she only wished the state would provide more contextual information about the samples.
“It gives us more and more of the story,” she said.
Widespread salt contamination has affected the wells of hundreds of residents in the town for several years. Many, including a few who found lead in their well water, have relied on bottled water for drinking and spent thousands of dollars replacing corroded appliances and utensils. They have widely blamed the contamination on road salt seeping into the ground water from the DOT salt barn. Department officials have deemed the claim unfounded based on what they consider a lack of and contradictory evidence.
The department is not the only organization using road salt, as other entities lay it down on roads, parking areas and private properties, Mr. Blain wrote. Sampling from private wells performed for the town in 2013 “showed generally poor water quality,” not just from salt, but also bacteria and other contaminants, he wrote.
“Less than half of the wells sampled exceeded the 250 milligrams-per-liter public drinking water standard for chloride and many of those were in locations outside the path of likely groundwater flow from the Collins Landing facility,” he wrote. “More than half the wells tested exhibited serious water quality issues unrelated to salt, including testing positive for coliform/E. coli and lead.”
Ms. Pieper said she would like more information, particularly scientific analysis, about how state officials reached their conclusion about the salt barn, particularly as it contradicts residents’ claims and other research.
The Orleans Town Council has been building a 3½-mile-long water line with connections that will bring clean water to hundreds of residents on Route 12, Collins Landing, Fishers Landing, Seaway Avenue, Arcadia Park Road, Farrell Drive and Reed Point, Clayton.
More than 250 of the 300 properties, including homes, businesses and trailer parks, have been connected to the line and received water. Workers should soon wrap up the project by trailer parks in Fishers Landing before they open in April and finish servicing the residents on Collins Landing Road by mid-summer.