"We are essentially salting our earth," said Marc Edwards, professor of water engineering at Virginia Tech, who has been studying the effects of salt corrosion on lead found in water pipes in Flint, Washington, D.C. and New Jersey.
"We are putting 130 pounds per person on the roads each year in the U.S. and it's already doubled the level of salt in many U.S. rivers," he told Discovery News. "The potential consequences of this are quite extraordinary."
According to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the amount of road salt used on the nation's roads doubled from 1990 to 2011, while salt levels in northern streams has risen faster than the rate of normal urbanization.
In 2015, the National Science Foundation gave Edward a $50,000 grant to investigate Flint's water distribution system. He found that chloride concentrations in the city's drinking water had soared from 11.4 mg/l to 92 mg/l after city officials switched from the Detroit River to the Flint River.
Edward said high chloride levels corrode plumbing infrastructure, causing lead particles to separate from the pipe and leach into the water.