Road Salt and the Environment

Posted on January 29th, 2016

It is that time of year with snow, ice and cold weather in New Jersey. As all of us have seen in the past, it is also a time when salt is applied to roadways, sidewalks and any place where vehicular or foot traffic may be. This can pose a hazard to the environment when eventual snow melt transports the suspended salt into storm water systems, lakes, streams and other fresh water bodies. This also applies to snow removal, as plowed snow from roadways often contains salt from pre-storm applications. It is important where this snow is placed and allowed to melt without harming the environment. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) even has a policy to regulate the plowing and disposal of snow after storms.Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 1.58.38 PM

There are many dangers of excess road salt. It not only affects the environment; it can also damage your car through rusting if it is not regularly cleaned during these winter months. In an environmental aspect, all of this road salt will eventually lead to fresh water bodies once all of the snow melts or there is a rainstorm. Once this road salt reaches a fresh water lake, for example, the salt will eventually settle at the bottom of the lake and eventually lead to chemical stratification. This can impede on the natural flow of dissolved oxygen in the lake and potentially harm aquatic life. Road salt can also eventually impact groundwater aquifers, which can affect those who use potable wells as their primary source of drinking water. Those who have high blood pressure can be in danger if their potable well water has a greater concentration of sodium than the natural background.

There is an alternative to rock salt in keeping our roadways and sidewalks safe during the winter. Studies have shown that magnesium chloride does not cause significant harmful effects to the environment due to it quick rate of dilution in water. Once snow-melt and storm water runoff begin, magnesium chloride will quickly dissolve, in contrast to ordinary rock salt.

It is important that we consider an alternate solution to rock salt, such as magnesium chloride, to protect our environment.

Nicholas Mazza

Environmental Scientist

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