Complaint Investigation --
If You Think Your Well Has Been Contaminated by a Sand/Salt Pile

When salt moves with rain and snowmelt from a sand/salt pile, it can move through the soil and contaminate ground water.  The extent of contamination is dependent upon many geologic variables, such as the size and number of pore spaces between soil particles and the size, number and connected of fractures in bedrock. 

Some homeowners with wells living near sand/salt piles may find elevated levels of sodium and chloride in their drinking water.  The DEP has researched the impact of uncovered sand/salt piles on private wells and found that more than half of  homeowners with a well within 500 feet of a sand/salt pile have elevated levels of chloride in their drinking water.  Increased levels of chloride and sodium in well water can cause hypertension in some individuals and speed corrosion of water heaters, pumps, and pipes.   Contaminated well water can also lower property values.

Please note:  While DEP can investigate a complaint related to salt-contaminated drinking water, determine (if possible) the source of the contamination, and take enforcement action against the party (parties) which may have violated state environmental laws, we cannot provide an alternative drinking water source for homeowners or require a responsible party to do so when salt (sodium and chloride) is the contaminant.

If you think your well has been contaminated by a sand/salt pile, here is what you can do.

(1) Have your well water analyzed for sodium and chloride.  Some people who use sodium and chloride-contaminated ground water never notice a "salty" taste, while others complain about taste problems which may be caused by naturally occurring contaminants.  You won't know for sure you have a problem until you get your well water tested.  Check your local yellow pages for a reputable water testing laboratory and compare prices.  The Department of Human Services' Health and Environmental Testing Laboratory offers a mail-in, water testing kit for sodium and chloride for $26.

The Department of Environmental Protection does not routinely provide well water testing for people who believe their well water may be contaminated by chloride.    

When you get your test results from the lab, they should indicate whether or not your water should be used for drinking purposes.  Click here for information about the health effects of chloride and sodium in drinking water.   For additional help interpreting your results, you should contact DHS's Bureau of Health at (207)287-8016.

(2)If your well has been contaminated by a public (state, county or municipal) sand/salt pile, there are steps prescribed in law for you to follow.  23 M.R.S.A. §3659 (Protection of private water supplies) requires homeowners to apply in writing to the political subdivision for a determination of the cause of the contamination and assessment of damages.  You, as the applicant, must provide the town, county or state with:

  • Your name and address;
  • The name and address of any lien holder on your property;
  • Your source of title;
  • A description of the location of the property;
  • A description of the damage (include your well water testing results); and
  • The cause to which the damage is attributed.

The political subdivision has ninety (90) days to provide you with a written response.   The town, county or state may make a settlement offer which might include replacing the water supply or paying a designated sum of money.  If you and the political subdivision are unable to agree on the cause of the problem or terms of settlement, then you may file an action in Superior Court within one year of receiving your first written response from the political subdivision.

If your well has been contaminated by a private sand/salt pile, then you may move immediately to the civil courts for remedy.

Read the law carefully, know your rights and responsibilities, and, if needed, consult a legal professional.