Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Effects of Road Salt on the Environment

Road Salt has long been the most effective and widely used de-icing method after snow storms. New Hampshire was the first state to implement the usage of road salt as a means to expedite melting and increasing state wide productivity during the winter months.  After New Hampshire’s successful use of road salt as a preventative measure during the winter months, the use of road salt doubled every five years in the United States. This increase in road salt usage began to noticeably affect vegetation and wildlife in states that used salt continuously.  Road salt contains approximately “40 percent sodium ions and 60 percent chloride ions.” These chloride ions are completely soluble and pose a toxic threat to vegetation and wildlife after they dissolve.  Chloride that dissolves into groundwater remains there, as there are no natural removal methods; the only way to reduce chloride concentrations is dilution.  Water contaminated with chloride poses a significant effect on animals that depend on it, stifling reproduction, growth and even causing kill-off.  Road salt not only impacts aquatic life, but wildlife as well. “Birds, the most sensitive wildlife species to salt, often mistake road salt crystals for seeds or grit. Consumption of very small amount of salt can result in toxicosis and death within the bird population.” Consumption of road salt by birds can cause a significant drop in population if the winter months are long, if enough birds die this can also cause a disruption in the local food chain.  Road salt certainly has a huge effect on wildlife but its effect on the environment is quite significant as well.  Vegetation and soil are the most visibly affected parts of the environment. “Salt can lead to plant death and can also cause a colonization of salt tolerant species, such as cattails, thereby reducing species diversity.” All of these adverse effects on plants and soil cost farmers millions of dollars each year, in many cases forcing them to abandon plots of land due to infertility of the soil.
I was quite surprised at the scale of impact that road salt has on the environment. Road salt affects everything from soil to birds, causing massive disruptions to the environment. Personally, I feel that more should be done to combat overuse of road salt. It has become increasingly obvious that the overuse of road salt is causing an increased amount of harm to the environment, but the necessity of road salt is undeniable. The local governments that use road salt should focus on having strict salting schedules and regulations that seek to slow the effect that road salt has on the environment.  There are also economic effects of road salt such as, buildings becoming more brittle and soil degradation which affect everyday people. These effects are hard to ignore and I feel that governments should look for alternatives that seek to lower the amount of road salt used during winter months.
--Nedim Ljubuncic

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