Earlier this year, the State Legislature passed a bill to create an Adirondack Road Salt Task Force, sponsored by Assemblymember Billy Jones and Senator Tim Kennedy. If Governor Cuomo signs the bill, the Task Force, which would include the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Health, and the Adirondack Park Agency, would be charged with reviewing road salt use and road salt contamination in the Adirondacks and issuing recommendations for reducing contamination.
Road salt is commonly used to melt ice on roads and sidewalks during the winter, making it safer for people to travel after snowstorms. And New York uses a lot of road salt – almost 2 billion pounds per year. The Adirondack region, which averages more than seven feet of snow per year, gets more than its fair share of this salt. So if road salt helps to keep people safe on the roads, why did New York need to pass this legislation?
The answer is that road salt eventually washes off the road, and when that happens it can contaminate habitats and get into drinking water supplies. You might like the smell of the ocean, but you probably don’t want to taste it when you pour yourself a glass of water! But in the Adirondacks a recent study tested 157 wells that are downslope of state roads and found that two-thirds of them had sodium about the federal government’s recommended maximum level. Long-term exposure to drinking water that has been contaminated by salt can lead to high blood pressure, kidney problems, and other serious health issues, and it can kill wildlife. Once drinking water has been contaminated it is difficult and costly to remediate it.
How do we find a solution that keeps drivers safe in winter but also protects public health? That’s what the Adirondack Road Salt Task Force will try to figure out. By figuring out exactly how big the problem is, we can start to figure out how to fix it. Once of the most exciting features of this task force is that it will develop pilot programs for safely reducing road salt use and developing alternatives to salt entirely. If these pilot programs work in the Adirondacks, they can be expanded statewide, ensuring that all New Yorkers can both stay safe on the roads and rest easy that their drinking water is healthy.
NYLCV supported this legislation when the Legislature was considering it, and now we urge Governor Cuomo to sign it.