Mountain of road salt, Toronto. Image: katalogue on flickr
Mountains of salt are spread on snowy roads in North America every winter, and environmentalists have been complaining about it for years. But studies are piling up that indicate that the cost may be too high.
Martin Mittelstaedt reports in the Globe and Mail about a new study of Frenchman's Bay, a lagoon off Lake Ontario by University of Toronto Geologists. The conclusion:
"Our findings are pretty dramatic, and the effects are felt year-round," said Nick Eyles, a geology professor at the university and the lead researcher on the project. "We now know that 3,600 tonnes of road salt end up in that small lagoon every winter from direct runoff in creeks and effectively poison it for the rest of the year."
In the community of Pickering, east of Toronto, they apply 7,600 tons of salt. Half of it goes into the groundwater, and the other half right into Frenchman's Bay.
The salt water "knocks out fish," Dr. Eyles said, adding that in the most contaminated areas, only older fish can survive, while younger ones move to areas of the lagoon closer to Lake Ontario and its fresher water.
More in the Globe and Mail.
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A University of Minnesota study recently studied 39 lakes and three major rivers, and found that 70% of the road salt ended up in the watershed. According to Science Daily,
"Nobody has asked the question of where the salt ultimately goes after the winter season is over," said research team leader Stefan, a civil engineering professor at the university's St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. "Our study has been concerned with that question in particular."
Effects of salt include decreases in biodiversity, reduction in fish numbers and types, and higher mortality rates among organisms that rely on marine life for food.
The ridiculous part of this story is that salt is completely unnecessary. It only works within a few degrees of the freezing point so where it is really cold, people have to learn how to drive properly in winter with properly equipped cars. But for those further south, add more salt, no matter what the cost to the environment.
Road salt destroys roads, shortens the lives of cars, kills vegetation and now, we know that it is harming our watersheds. Better alternatives would be to reduce speed limits in winter, make snow tires mandatory as they do in Quebec, and provide better public transit and other alternatives to driving, instead of destroying the environment to satisfy a need for speed.