4 Ways Road Salt Harms the Environment

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on January 14, 2015. Enjoy!

The United States has a salt problem, and it extends well beyond the excessive sodium we consume in our diets. In the winter months, municipalities rely on dumping salt on the roads to minimize the effects of ice. Altogether, the U.S. uses ten times the amount of salt on roadways than it does in the processed foods we eat. While road salt may help to keep drivers safe, it comes at a steep environmental cost.

1. It Increases Our Salt Consumption

You can throw salt on roads, but you can’t force it to stay there. In due time, salt makes its ways into nearby waterways where it lingers. As a result, a lot of the water we wind up drinking has higher levels of salt than it would otherwise.

Vox cites a study that finds 84 percent of city-adjacent streams have higher levels of chloride thanks specifically to these road-salting techniques. Apparently, during the months following salted roads, 29 percent of these streams have more salt than the federal “safety limits” for drinking water allow.

2. It Kills Aquatic Life

If the salt eventually makes its way into our own systems via local bodies of water, you can bet that the aquatic life living in these streams and rivers are impacted, too. The influx of salt tampers the circulation rates of ponds, decreases the oxygen flow to the bottom of lakes and even messes with available nutrients.

Many fish, frogs and other aquatic creatures simply cannot withstand the amount of salt that suddenly shows up in the water and die as a result. Whole sections of waterways that see increased salination in the winter experience major “die-offs.”

3. It Endangers Larger Animals Too

Salt licks are a popular treat for large mammals, so you can imagine what kind of treat wintery roads turn into after they’ve been coated. Suddenly, flavor-seeking deer and moose will leave the woods to have a nice long lick on busy roadways. Sadly, this snack is sometimes a fatal one for the animals with increased vehicle collisions.

4. It Ruins Cars and Roadways

Salt is corrosive, so it takes a major toll on most things it touches. It gradually ruins cars when the salt splashes up underneath them and wears away at the concrete sidewalks and steel safety beams that line roadways. When this infrastructure is prematurely weakened, that means we have to utilize extra resources to replace it. And according to estimates, the country spends at least double the amount of money spent salting roads to deal with the aftermath.

While the salt is damaging, it’s also worth mentioning that it’s credited with reducing winter-time auto accidents by 87 percent. Therefore, the solution is not to stop salting altogether, but either to salt in a smarter way, or find an alternative to traditional road salt. Hey, Wisconsin’s plan to put cheese brine on its roads is starting to look even more clever!

Photo Credit: Jason Blackeye/Unsplash

99 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

thanks

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John B
John B8 months ago

Thanks for sharing the info.

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heather g
heather g8 months ago

Isn't it a sand with salt mixture now? Still, the salt is bad for wildlife and water, etc

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Danii P
Past Member 8 months ago

Thanks

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Toni W
Toni W8 months ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W8 months ago

TYFS

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 months ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 months ago

No to cheese brine!

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