Rock SaltBrian PruntyIt’s another snowy, wintery bliss, here in Northeast Ohio and many of us are out shoveling, plowing and throwing salt to fight off Old Man Winter. We watch that snow melt right before our eyes and witness large flakes melting as they gently set on the nicely cleared pavement. Man, salt is an amazing product and makes our lives a lot easier. As a believer of the yin-yang philosophy, I know using salt is causing trouble elsewhere...

Salt is classified as Chloride when talking about the runoff of excess salt loads that come with melting snow and stormwater runoff after a rain. Chlorides in the form of stormwater are a major pollutant that contributes to our battle against non-point source (or indirect) pollution. Unlike all the other pollutants carried during the first flush, Chlorides cannot be treated by stormwater treatment practice. Many developments prior to 2004 do not have stormwater treatment practices, so that means over 95% of developed lands are contributing pollutant loads to our local streams, rivers and lakes.

Non-point Sources

What is the big deal with salt? As stated earlier, we use salt as a deicer and then this salt is broken down since it is water soluble. Due to this property of salt, it is easily transported by snow melt and water. This water carrying the chlorides then enters storm drains, travels through storm sewers and empties into our streams, rivers, wetlands and lakes. This highly salty water damages pavement, cars, concrete bridges and can easily enter into drinking water wells. It also has a very toxic effect on the aquatic life found in our streams and lakes. Most plants cannot handle high salinity levels so they die off allowing invasive plants to move in which destroys local ecosystems and biodiversity. No pun intended but what a snow ball effect.

Permeable ConcreteA study in Rockingham County, New Hampshire showed sources of salt loads and the results were surprising to me. Municipal and state roads caused 36% of the salt loadings, private roads were 11% and parking lots were 50% of total salt loading. The missing 3% came from miscellaneous sites. So the majority (64%) of salt loading comes from the private land and only 36% comes from public roads. How can we reduce our salt footprint? The state, county, and local communities are buying specialized equipment which apply salt more efficiently and less likely to waste salt through accidental dumping. Through better planning and incorporating newer technology like permeable pavement we can dramatically reduce the amount of salt needed on sites. A study conducted by the Stormwater Center resulted in “permeable asphalt” that requires 75% less salt than a traditional dense mix asphalt parking lot. As for private land, we need to be more conscious when applying salt and cleaning up and reusing piles left on the pavement. Maybe limit the use of salt to portions of the parking lot that are really being used.

Even though salt can be a great commodity, we need to think what it side effects may be. We need to be responsible when applying it, clean up wasteful piles, use it only in areas needed and treat it like gold. If we continue to use it as an unlimited resource, we may one day wake up and find regulations limiting the use of salt.

Brian Prunty

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