Winter road salt seeping into drinking water, researchers say

The Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan provide drinking water for approximately one million people in southeastern Wisconsin. Researchers say that salt from winter storms seeps into and eventually into your home.

Milwaukee Riverkeeper Sheryl Nen said, “We have a big problem with too much salt on the roads.

Nen patrols Milwaukee’s rivers for pollution. Based on testing, salt is harmful to fish and aquatic life in Wisconsin and can end up in drinking water.

“Salinity is getting to the point where it affects the taste and health of water,” says Nenn.

Lexi Passante, a rainwater expert at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says this can lead to high blood pressure problems. It can also affect fish. They may not fully grow or lay many eggs.

“In some cases, salinity levels can be instantly toxic to fish and aquatic life,” Nen said.

Passante conducted the survey in the winter of 2022. In urban waters she was tested for as much as 2,000 milligrams of chloride per liter, she said. The Environmental Protection Agency standard is 860.

She explained: That water isn’t treated in the same way as wastewater, so it ends up in waterways and eventually in Lake Michigan. Many Wisconsins get their drinking water from there.

“Give us an amount of salt that our bodies don’t need at all. It’s not built into our diet,” Passante said.

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So should you be worried about what you’re drinking?

“This is a very difficult question to answer. Until the data show, or something like that, we need to take more action on this pollution problem,” Passante said.

In the meantime, experts say using less salt and simply wiping it down after a storm can help.

If you’re worried about what’s in your drinking water, contact your local health department, according to the DNR.

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