Earlier this winter, we reported on the importance of getting a quality car wash after a winter weather event, to rid the body and undercarriage of road salt and prevent wear and tear.

The chemical compounds New Jersey uses on its roads before and during storms help keep drivers moving when they need to, but don't wash off those surfaces quite as easily.

And that's a problem for all of us whether we're behind the wheel or not, according to Doug O'Malley, Environment New Jersey director.

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"If road salt is corrosive for your car, it's not good for the environment, and it's certainly not good for our drinking water supplies either," O'Malley said.

Who knows what this winter may yet bring, O'Malley said, but in a typical New Jersey winter over the last decade, he said the state Department of Transportation dumps 300,000 tons of rock salt and 1.7 million gallons of brine on its roads and bridges.

When a cleansing rain comes, those roads and bridges are finally spared from the onslaught of salt — but the salt has to go somewhere.

"It doesn't just disappear. It ends up in our waterways and in our drinking water," O'Malley said.

And in demonstrably large amounts, he added. Several years ago, O'Malley said that officials in Brick fought a lead problem in their drinking water because the Metedeconk River had gotten so salty that its water was stripping out the lead in residents' pipes.

In New York state, according to O'Malley, salt contamination has been detected in about a quarter of all wells, and salt levels have increased exponentially in Dutchess County.

Could the same, or worse, happen here? Perhaps, O'Malley said, if road crews aren't more judicious during the winter.

"We obviously need to prioritize road safety, but we need to do more to ensure that we're not using more salt than we need to," he said.

While Gov. Phil Murphy's administration was criticized for its overreliance on pre-storm brine after the November 2018 snowstorm that choked the state's highways, O'Malley said brining an appropriate amount may be about the best the state can do right now.

"Brining isn't the end-all-and-be-all, but it's a lot better than salting after a storm, or during a storm," O'Malley said, adding that waiting until after the fact could mean crews putting down 75% more salt than they would beforehand.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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