Melting snow, road salt causing increased sodium levels in drinking water

Officials with United Water say they have found elevated levels of sodium chloride in customers' drinking water, a side effect of New Jersey's unusually harsh winter. (3/10/14)

OAKLAND - Officials with United Water say they have found elevated levels of sodium chloride in customers' drinking water, a side effect of New Jersey's unusually harsh winter.

Experts say road salt is washed into sewers by melting snow. It finds its way into reservoirs and ultimately, drinking water.

Dieticians say the increased salt levels could be potentially dangerous for people on low-sodium diets. "Your blood pressure could rise or if you're prone to swelling because of congestive heart failure, you could have more swelling," says Joanne Lewandoski, a dietitian at Englewood Hospital.

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United Water says sodium levels in drinking water rise every winter, but because there has been so much snow this year, sodium levels are 3 to 4 times higher than usual.  An 8-ounce glass of water has about 28 milligrams of sodium, about the same as 8 ounces of diet soda.  

Water treatment facilities and home filters cannot remove sodium from water.  

"I think it's really bad," says Dina Kinloch, of Teaneck. "I don't think I'm going to be drinking a lot of the water."

The utility says the elevated sodium levels are still within acceptable standards for most people, but some people could unknowingly ingest more salt than their bodies can handle.

United Water has contacted dialysis centers and local hospitals, but says the best solution for customers is bottled water. 

Sodium levels should come back down in the coming weeks as the snow melts, United Water says. In the meantime, the utility is contacting municipal governments to ask them to use calcium instead of salt in the future, which has a smaller impact on the environment.

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