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The majority of Americans live near areas affected by snow and/or ice. These areas see road crews dump approximately 2,000 tons of snow and ice each year. 25 metric tons salt on the roadss, which reduces vehicular accidents by around 80 percent. And while that’s undoubtedly a good thing, all that salt is wreaking havoc on the environment and our drinking water, according to a new studyThis month’s issue was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
“The magnitude of the road salt contamination issue is substantial and requires immediate attention,” says Bill Hintz, assistant professor of ecology at the University of Toledo and lead author on the study. Hintz and his co-researchers set out to find out how road salt impacts freshwater ecosystems as well as the water supply. They also sought to determine how we could reduce or mitigate the use of hazardous deicers (chemicals that melt snow) without compromising public safety.
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Most road salt is sodium chloride (or NaCl) which is basic, run of-the-mill sodium chloride. It works by lowering the freezing point of water—from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to about 15 degree Fahrenheit. New Hampshire was the very first state to use salt road in 1938. By the 1970s scientists had already begun to recognize the benefits of salt road. Sounding the alarmIts potential negative consequences, especially the contamination private wells. . However, our dependence on road salt has increased, tripling in the past 45 years.
Each storm brings salt to the roadsides by snowmelt and rain. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), measures road salt contamination by looking for chloride. The agency established a safety limit in 1988. 230 mgs chloride per liter The aquatic life is at risk from excess water.
By comparing datasets from the EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Surveys Database, Hintz and his team analyzed chloride concentration over time in the nation’s lakes, streams, and wetlands, finding that those thresholds were routinely surpassed.
Salting from road salt is particularly dangerous for lakes that have roads in their drainage basin. One lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountain Park, for instance, has experienced a three-fold increase of chloride in the last 37 years alone. Urban streams are another trouble spot, routinely testing at 20 to 30 times the EPA’s threshold.
“Current EPA thresholds are clearly not enough,” Hintz writes. “The impacts of deicing salts can be sublethal or lethal at current thresholds and recent research suggests that negative effects can occur at levels far below these thresholds.”
Worse, chloride from road salt is regularly found in drinking water. The extra salt is not only harmful to humans, especially those who eat low-sodium diets, but deicing salts can also mobilize harmful chemicals in the soil such as radon or mercury. High levels can also cause water pipes to corrode, releasing heavy metals like lethal lead. This phenomenon was at least partly responsible for the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where water in the city’s river tested at “unnaturally high levels” for chloride, according to the study.
Some municipalities have switched to alternative salts like beet juice or sand because they recognize the dangers associated with road salt. However, these alternatives can have environmental drawbacks and are often prohibitively expensive. Instead, they suggest a few best practices for entities responsible for the storage and spreading of road salt.
Road salt should always remain in a permanent structure with walls and impermeable flooring to prevent seepage. The authors also recommend de-icing, which involves treating roads using liquid salt brine Before Instead of distributing salt after snowfall, you can use a storm to remove the snow. Additionally, live-edge snowplows—which feature multiple blades connected by springs, rather than conventional plows that have a fixed edge—can remove more snow and mitigate the need for road salt.
The solution could also include homeowners. According to the Salt Smart CollaborativeThe partnership of watershed advocacy and transportation groups based in Illinois is titled. Most people use too much salt to treat surfaces around their homes. It only takes about 12 ounces of salt—roughly a coffee mug’s worth—to treat a 20-foot-long driveway. Salt can be swept up by homeowners after a storm to prevent harmful chlorides reaching streams and rivers.
Keep in mind that ordinary road salt stops functioning when temperatures drop below 15 degrees. When it gets that cold, it’s time to find a different deicer, or just stay home instead.
Ashley Stimpson, a freelance journalist, writes primarily about science, conservation, the outdoors.
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