When you’re driving down the road during the winter, you come to appreciate the salt on the road. It gives the road some texture and prevents water from freezing and creating black ice, which can cause horrific car accidents. However, did you ever think about where that salt goes once it melts the ice and what affect it has on the environment? Scientists say that the salt on inland roads can have a negative impact that reaches all the way out to the oceans.
In 2005, the University of Maine conducted some experiments to determine the impact that salt has on water quality and wildlife. What they found is that the salt on roads could affect amphibians living in wetlands that are located 550 feet from the road. Salt contains dyes and other chemicals that can wreak havoc on the environment and its living organisms. Road salt can even kill trees, especially white pines, which are more sensitive to the mineral. With regard to water quality, road salt can increase the acidity of the water and cause similar destruction patterns as acid rain. When wood frogs and spotted salamanders were exposed to the salt, their offspring were unable to survive.
According to the Transportation Research Board, salt costs an average of $30 per ton and about 10 million tons of road salt is used in the U.S. annually. To help reduce costs and the negative effects on the environment, Iowa and Chicago have implemented more innovative ways to manage icy road conditions.
In Ankeny, Iowa, they are using garlic salt. Although it’s still salt, it was salt that would have been wasted. Tone Brothers, Inc., a spice company, donated 18,000 pounds of garlic salt, which would have been sent to a landfill. Chicago took a more eco-conscious approach by combining beet juice with their rock salt. This enables them to use less salt on the roads. Beet juice can still de-ice the roads when it’s about zero degrees, but the rock salt is limited at 20 degrees.
The first steps have been made to reduce the amount of salt on the road, but more research is needed to develop a more eco-friendly way to de-ice the roads that doesn’t involve the use of salt.