Leave Salt on the Table, Not on the Roads

Published on March 25th, 2010 | by

Putting salt on roads and sidewalks to melt ice and snow is common around the world. However, it may be doing more harm than good.

A couple of recent studies show some of the negative effects of putting mountains and mountains of salt on roads and sidewalks.

Image Credit: Grant MacDonald Humber Bay Park, Lake Ontario
Humber Bay Park, Lake Ontario

For years, researchers have been looking into this issue and have found many things to be concerned about — salting roads and sidewalks harms amphibians in small seasonal wetlands; it can kill trees and help invasive species to come in and take over the habitat of more salt-sensitive native species; and its negatives ramifications can even reach into the oceans.

Some studies have also found that it may create transportation safety problems of its own, as it is shown to attract deer and moose to the roadway.

New studies out of the University of Michigan and the University of Toronto show, respectively, that 70% of the salt put on roads in the Twin Cities metro area was being retained in the watershed with 39 area lakes increasing in salinity in the past 22 years (and probably causing great harm to aquatic life in the area) and that the Frenchman Bay lagoon on the shores of Lake Ontario was essentially being poisoned from all of the road salt in that area.

In the Frenchman Bay scenario, Nick Eyles, a geology professor at the University of Toronto and the lead researcher on the project, said: “Our findings are pretty dramatic, and the effects are felt year-round.  We now know that 3,600 tonnes of road salt end up in that small lagoon every winter from direct runoff in creeks and effectively poison it for the rest of the year.” Fish in the lagoon are “knocked out” by the changes to the water chemistry and Dr. Eyles referred to the whole process as a “relentless chemical assault on a watershed.”

This is all, no doubt, happening on a much larger scale throughout the world as well.

One institutional action that some jurisdictions are now taking and many others could take to help address these problems is, simply, use less salt.

On a personal level, Planet Green has also come up with 5 Eco-Smart Ways to Remove Ice from Your Walkways:

  1. If you have a bad back, hire a neighborhood kid to shovel your walk. When I was a kid, I was able to pull in a two-figure income with only a shovel and a rake.
  2. Buy a shovel with backache-prevention in mind. Combo the ergonomic shovel with an ice chipper. Ice chippers can break up the ice so much better than the metal edge of a shovel.
  3. If you cannot break up the ice, sprinkle sand on the ice for traction. Sand can be bad for storm drains. Use it sparingly.
  4. Use a calcium magnesium acetate-based deicer. Don’t let the big, scary chemical name fool you. This stuff is as corrosive as tap water, and it is less harmful to the environment than rock salt.
  5. Heat your drive way. Some companies can install a radiant heating system into your driveway. This method uses electricity, but if you power the heated driveway in an eco-friendly manner, this can potentially be the greenest and easiest way to remove snow and ice

Next time you get some snow and ice on your walkway, consider these ideas. And consider talking with your local municipality about its road salting practices as well.


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