Greig Aims to Fix Decades-old Water Pollution From Road Salt

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Article courtesy of TED BOOKER | March 2, 2016 | Watertown Daily Times | Shared as educational material

GREIG — The town’s former outdoor storage of road salt more than 20 years ago has caused ongoing pollution of well water at municipal buildings, and officials are now trying to correct the problem.

Recent testing of water samples show that Greig, which drilled a new well about five years ago to address the contamination, still has high levels of sodium and chloride as a result of the long-defunct salt pile, town Supervisor Marilyn Patterson said on Tuesday.

She said the town’s well supplies water to its municipal building and highway garage on Greig Road. No area homes are currently affected by contamination.

The Town Board is considering whether it should drill a deeper well to access potable water, she said, or invest about $10,000 in a new purification system.

“Maybe we’ll decide to do both,” said Ms. Patterson, who has reached out to state Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, to raise awareness about the matter. “I think a lot of small towns are suffering from this, but nobody knows about it.”

For his part, Mr. Blankenbush said he believes state agencies should further investigate the source of the contamination in the towns of Greig and Pitcairn.

“Within New York state, a local county may call upon state agencies if it cannot properly solve the issue and needs assistance,” he said in a prepared statement.

The town of Orleans in Jefferson County and town of Pitcairn in St. Lawrence County are also combatting decades-old pollution problems from road salt. Unlike Greig, those towns have blamed their groundwater contamination on road salt from the state Department of Transportation.

State agencies have already vowed to aid Orleans by funding the additional testing of wells and helping the town secure grant funding needed to break ground on a water line that would serve more than 500 users on and around Route 12 from Alexandria Bay to Fishers Landing.

The problem in Greig stems back to the 1990s, Ms. Patterson said. She said that Greig, which has a contract with Lewis County to plow and salt county roads within the town, along with its own roads, stored salt for years in a pile near municipal buildings.

After discovering the pile was polluting area wells, she said, the town had it removed about 20 years ago and hasn’t stored salt since that time. Road salt is now picked up by the town from a DOT storage building in Lyons Falls, she said, and workers treat roads with a combination of salt and sand.

“The town hall was contaminated back then and the house next door also had issues,” Ms. Patterson said Tuesday. “The people who lived at the house put in a purifier and we bought bottled water for them and town buildings.”

The nearby house was bought two years ago by the town and demolished, she said, creating room for a new highway garage that is still being planned.

For about 15 years, she said, the town elected to cope with the contamination problem because its former municipal building was used mainly for board meetings and not staffed. But she said the town’s new municipal building and library — built about four years ago — is routinely staffed and in need of drinking water.

The town’s current well was drilled about five years ago to ensure the new municipal building had potable water, she said, but contamination has remained. The town regularly buys five-gallon jugs of water for its buildings.

She said the town needed to replace a water heater in its municipal building last year because of corrosion.

“It rusted through in a couple of years because of the salt,” she said.

Ms. Patterson contended that the state should establish a better procedure to ensure municipalities safely store road salt. “Obviously, this wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t mandated by the county to maintain roads,” she said. “The state should provide towns with storage buildings so we’re not contaminating people’s wells.”

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