Technician warns of ‘catastrophic failure’ if household appliances are exposed to salt water

Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 10:42 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As the saltwater wedge winds its way upriver, threatening to contaminate drinking water in the New Orleans metro area, a local appliance repairman said the potential impacts to common home appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerators with ice makers cannot be understated.

James Dyer, a technician with 45 years of experience working for Professional Appliance Repair in Elmwood, said a concentration of 250mg/L of sodium chloride in water could have corrosive impacts on metal machinery.

“If it’s 250 per liter, that’s a high concentration of salt water and that’s going to cause some damage in the machines,” Dyer said. “Water is used in your everyday life. How are you going to avoid salt water coming through your tap?”

Newer machines with stainless steel or plastic components aren’t at as much risk. But if a machine has any kind of metal components it is at risk for salt water causing rust damage and corrosion, Dyer said.

He said he’s especially concerned with plumbing systems throughout Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

“(It’s) not just appliances, plumbing too,” Dyer said. “A lot of the plumbing fixtures are still old. You have a lot of older homes in the city that still have cast-iron plumbing. If that rusts out the plumbing, I think the damage here could be pretty long-term.”

The Army Corps of Engineers projects water with a salinity of 250mg/L could arrive at Algiers in a matter of weeks.


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If the water pumped by a parish water system is not diluted with enough fresh water, Dyer suggests turning off its access to appliances such as ice makers to avoid paying hefty repair costs down the road.

“Ice machines are not going to fare well with nickel-coated evaporators,” he said. “If there’s going to be saltwater intrusion, it’s going to be a problem for that as well.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Friday there are around 50,000 lead pipes still in use throughout Orleans Parish.

Gov. John Bel Edwards on Monday requested President Biden issue a federal emergency declaration to help with the costs of mitigating the impending saltwater wedge.

“When we deal with the water crisis that could be, we want to deal with accurate information. How safe is the water?” asked retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore. “We’ve had low water levels before, but this is a record. This is two years in a row we’ve had a low water level.”

Honore led the federal relief effort following Hurricane Katrina. He said transparency on the part of the local and state departments responding to the saltwater wedge is key. It can be earned, Honore said, by testing the salinity throughout the entire water delivery process, from intake to processing to homes and businesses receiving it.

“After we saw what happened in Flint (Mich.), that debacle between the local, state and federal government, is embarrassing,” Honore said. “And what I saw happen in Jackson (Miss.) over the last year is embarrassing. The people just have to challenge the government to make sure the water testing is done at the point of use.”

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