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Natural Awakenings National

Environment Damaged by Winter Road Salt

Paved two-lane road surrounded by snow


Road crews in regions impacted by snow and ice dump around 25 metric tons of salt on roadways annually, reducing vehicular accidents by approximately 80 percent. All of this salt is wreaking havoc on the environment and our drinking water, according to a University of Toledo (Ohio) study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Bill Hintz, assistant professor of ecology and lead author, states, “The magnitude of the road salt contamination issue is substantial and requires immediate attention.”

Some easy fixes are within reach. Road salt should always be stockpiled in permanent structures with walls and impermeable floors to prevent seepage. De-icing involves treating roads with liquid salt brine before a storm rather than scattering salt after the snow has fallen. Live-edge snowplows with multiple blades connected by springs, rather than conventional plows with a fixed edge, can remove more snow and reduce the need for road salt. Keep in mind that ordinary road salt stops working when the temperature falls below 15 degrees.

According to the Salt Smart Collaborative, based in Illinois, most homeowners use too much salt to treat surfaces around their homes. About 12 ounces of salt (a coffee mug’s worth) can treat a 20-foot-long driveway. To prevent harmful chlorides from reaching rivers and streams, they can sweep up excess salt that remains after a storm and throw it away.

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