Geochemical Tracers of Surface Water and Ground Water Contamination from Road Salt
The application of road de-icers has lead to increasing solute concentrations in surface and ground water across the northern US, Canada, and northern Europe. In a public water supply well field in southeastern Massachusetts, USA, chloride concentrations in ground water from an unconfined aquifer have steadily risen for the past twenty years. The objectives of this study are to understand spatial and temporal trends in road salt concentrations in order to identify contamination sources and fate. To this end, the methods of this project include field and lab work. Water samples were collected from surface, near-surface, and ground water from March 2012 to March 2013. The other major field data are specific conductance measurements from probes located in three piezometers. In the lab, all samples were analyzed for major ions with ion chromatography analysis. Additionally, trace elements were measured by inductively coupled plasma analysis on a subset of samples. The results of these hydrogeochemical procedures showed several important trends. First, the highest concentrations of sodium and chloride from near-surface samples were located near to roadways. Second, ground water samples taken from glacial sediments contained relatively high concentrations throughout the water column, whereas ground water samples from wetlands had high concentrations only near the surface. Third, there was no clear relationship between pH and cation concentrations. Finally, specific conductance data showed strong seasonal trends near to the surface, whereas values taken from deeper in the aquifer were steadily increasing. Based on these results, it is highly probable that road salt application is the dominate contamination source. The pathways of road salt in the watershed include runoff into surface water and infiltration into the vadose zone and ground water. Road salt appears to preferentially travel through glacial features rather than floodplain features. It is possible that sodium from road salt is sorbed to aquifer sediment and displaces other cations. However, the low values of trace metals suggest that cation exchange is not mobilizing heavy metals. Finally, the increasing specific conductance values deep in the aquifer suggest that road salt is retained within the aquifer and concentrations will likely increase in the future if the current road salt application procedures are continued.