Road Salt Blamed For Well Water Contamination

Joyce Erwin and her family have detected a disturbing change to their water over the past five years.

"The smell and the taste- that's what we started to notice. It's turning everything white," said Erwin.

The faucets and the dishwasher are caked in a white film. Even showering has become an unpleasant experience at their Brooklyn home.

Six months ago, Erwin's neighbor, who was dealing with similar issues, approached her about allowing the state to test their wells. The results from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were straightforward: the water is not fit for human consumption.

The chloride level is 720, nearly three times the maximum contaminant level for drinking water. Sodium is elevated as well. A letter from DEEP indicates it's "likely attributable to road salting."

"We're all on bottled water, pets included. We still cook with the water because it's very costly," said Erwin.

The state will now set up monitoring wells to pinpoint the source of the problem.

Erwin and her neighbor live right along Route 6 and directly downhill from Brooklyn Correctional Institution. The Department of Transportation and Department of Correction use the same road salt to treat paved surfaces.

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters reached out to the DOT about Joyce's situation and the agency provided a statement which reads in part:

"Due to our conservative use of materials, we don't believe we will be found responsible for the issues associated with the property owner's well."

Mike Dietz, a water educator with UConn Extension , says contaminants from road salt run-off often infiltrate wells.

"The problem is that chloride doesn't get filtered very well or nearly at all. It's a very mobile contaminant that travels easily down through groundwater sources," said Dietz.

He believes DOT strikes a reasonable balance between safety and environmental impact. His concern lies with the contractors who treat large private and state properties.

"You can see a sheet of white that's over those parking lots. Those massive acres of pavement that get covered with salt. That all goes somewhere the next time it rains," said Dietz.

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have learned the DOC requisitioned more than 34 tons of road salt this past winter season for its staff to treat the parking lot and sidewalks at Brooklyn Correctional.

In a statement the agency said:

"This amount of salt is within industry standards and comparable to similar sized agency locations and their salt usage. As a proactive step, we are meeting with deep to arrange for testing on our facility grounds to address allegations that there is a connection to the well water element levels at adjacent private property."

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said if his agency's investigation points to the prison as the cause, the state will either help connect Joyce Erwin and her neighbors to public water or pay for a treatment system so their wells are safe again.

"If the tests from monitoring shows other homes could be impacted, we would want to take a look at those wells," said Schain.

For people who are not on well water, companies like the Metropolitan District Commission, test the drinking water for contaminants on regular basis.

If you do have a well, the DEEP recommends you test the water every year. You can get laboratory test for less than $100.

If that test uncovers an issue, the state will come out to confirm the test and investigate.

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