Road Salt Causing Contamination

snow on roadWhat might start out as one lick here and another lick there can turn into a full fledged salt addiction for woodland animals. Dear, porcupines, hares, birds, and other animals may all indulge in this habit. There is no shortage of salt to feed this addiction, with13 million tons applied to winter roads each year in the US. Sadly, this addiction can prove to be a deadly attraction.

Animals can be struck by vehicles while indulging their salt fix. Like many drugs, it can slow the reaction time of birds, causing them to be less alert around approaching cars .

“Birds get apathetic, they can’t fly off and that’s when they get schmucked by an 18-wheeler. So, while they’re getting hit by the cars, we believe the root cause is road salt,” said scientist Pierre Mineau.

Aquatic life is also at risk when melting snow gathers salt, finding its way to lakes and streams. Chloride concentrations can reach more than 1,000 milligrams per liter (mg/l), preventing the distribution of oxygen and nutrients. Environment Canada estimates that 10% of aquatic species are harmed by prolonged exposure to concentrations greater than 220 mg/l.

Vegetation is also effected by road salt, causing it to turn brown with dehydration. Salt intolerant species, such as Maple trees are disappearing from roadways. Vegetation as far as 162 feet from roads can be damaged. Because of the intricacy of the web of life, harm to vegetation can have a residual effect on wildlife.

Salt can also have an effect on health in humans although there is little evidence of salt addiction. The U.S. E.P.A. stated, “Especially since the construction of the interstate highway system, water contamination due to wintertime road salting has become an increasing problem.” Salt not only increases chloride levels in water, but can also increase the corrosion of pipes. This releases lead and other metals into the drinking water.

Many times this winter, I have seen salt trucks covering the roads with salt. Although this certainly offers a numerous benefits to the public, it does come with a price. Many states have been using alternatives to salt with success.

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