I think it is safe to say that most people here in Kentucky are tired of the snow. When the huge piles of snow finally melt away, we should consider what is being left behind – road salt.
For those who have to hit the highways during or after a snow storm, road salt is a lifesaver. Salt does a great job of keeping roads safe.
But there is an environmental price to pay from using salt on roadways. When most people think about the effects, the negative ones that it can have on the environment are often overlooked. It is estimated that more 22 million tons of salt is dumped onto the roads each year. While salting the roads allows traffic to pass through more quickly, the negative effects can have a more lasting impact.
As salt begins to melt away with the snow, it builds up in stream and river water. The excess amount of salt in these bodies of water can cause our drinking water to have traces of salt. The excess buildup can cause the death of the species that live in those bodies of water.
Also, salt is a corrosive mineral, which means that it can cause damage to automobiles. Salt can cause certain parts of a car to rust, and while it may take time to impact the appearance of the car, it will eventually catch up. Rust can result in many problems when it comes to the working condition of the car. For example, rust can cause hydraulic brake system leaks, as well as damage to the subframe.
As cities start to understand all the negative effects of road salt, many places are starting to consider alternatives and best management practices. For example, if salt is placed on the roads before the storm hits, instead of after, this can limit the overall amount of salt used and allow for easier cleanup following the snowfall.
Additionally, substances such as beet juice, sugar cane, molasses and cheese brine have been added to the salt in hopes to reduce the chloride that has the potential to impact the environment. These alternatives can help to reduce the negative impacts the salt has on our environment.
Alex Miller is the social media intern for Bluegrass Greensource. From Mt. Washington, sheis currently a student at the University of Kentucky. She is working toward a bachelor’s in environmental and sustainability studies, as well as in international studies.