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Be Salt Wise in the winter

Did you know that the salt we use to melt snow and ice on walkways, driveways and roads is harmful to the environment? That includes drinking water sources and the pipes and pumps needed to supply water to our customers.

The salt doesn't go away when the snow and ice melt. It seeps into the ground and into wells, travels with stormwater into streams and drinking water reservoirs, and corrodes pipes.

Damage Salt Causes

  • Harms aquatic animals and plants in local streams
  • Pollutes soil and water
  • Damages buildings
  • Corrodes vehicles, pavement and pipes

It takes only one teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water to a level that is toxic to freshwater ecosystems. Once that salt is in the water, it does not dissipate.

WSSC Water monitors the water in our Patuxent River reservoirs as well as the Potomac River, the source water for our Patuxent and Potomac Water Filtration Plants. The level of salt - sodium chloride - at the Patuxent River reservoirs has been steadily increasing and, if the trend continues, could pose a problem in the future.

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In the last few years, we’ve recorded higher levels of salt in the water entering both filtration plants. The levels peak in the winter months and are higher in years that see more winter weather events.

What is the impact on human health?

Salt in drinking water can be a health threat to those who have high blood pressure and are on sodium-restricted diets. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that for those on severely restricted sodium diets, sodium should not exceed 20 milligrams per liter. Sodium levels in WSSC Water’s Patuxent River drinking water reservoirs have been steadily increasing and, if the trend continues, the average sodium level might exceed the EPA's advisory level in 10 to 15 years.

  • EPA recommendation: 20 mg/L
  • Patuxent River Average: 12.87 mg/L.
  • Potomac River Average: 17.60 mg/L.

Do your part to keep excess salt out of local waterways:

  • Choose a de-icer with calcium magnesium acetate, the most environmentally friendly de-icer
  • Shovel snow and clear the pavement before snow turns to ice
  • Use salt only if there is ice
  • Apply the least amount of salt or de-icer necessary
  • A 12-ounce coffee mug full of salt is enough to treat a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares
  • Scatter the de-icer - leave space between the grains
  • Remember: when the temperature of the pavement drops to below 15 degrees, salt won’t work
  • Consider using sand for traction

Do not pretreat your walks or driveways. Salt placed on the pavement before it snows does not melt the snow and does not prevent it from sticking. And, if the weather changes and you apply salt again, you'll end up applying twice the amount of salt.

Last Modified: September 2, 2021, 8:04 am EDT