Happy 2019 Green Friends! Welcome back to another Saturday with Shavara. I’ve missed you all during my December winter hibernation. Much like the new year has crept up on us, I too am back and ready to bring you some compelling information that will hopefully illicit some environmental change.
Aside from the many New Year resolutions we make in the month of January there is something else that begins to occur more frequently as we creep through the cold winter months, and that friends is winter weather. Now some may love the look and feel of snow more than others, but if I had to make a guess I would say absolutely no one enjoys the bad weather driving conditions. Ice and sleet are sure to make a typically boring trip to the grocery store feel more like an Indiana Jones adventure. Our state, municipalities and cities are responsible for our major roads and typically handle winter weather by salting and using de-icing concoctions to assist in melting snow and preventing ice, but have you ever wondered what becomes of that salt mixed snow once it’s removed? Well it is your lucky Saturday because I am here to tell you all about it!
In typical fashion, I had a desire to learn more about the environmental impact of snow removal/disposal, which was sparked by a fleeting memory of my time living on the East Coast where I would notice the mounds of “dirty snow” being piled against curbs that later seemed to just vanish. At the time it was easy to disregard that snow and I looked forward to the “snow fairies” a.k.a snow plow workers making it disappear, so that driving was made easier. I never once wondered about that removal process and its impact on the environment, that is until now.
Snow that is removed from roadways plays a pretty significant role in water pollution in the winter because it is able to accumulate all types of contaminants as it’s scraped up, and often times dumped in, or near bodies of water. This form of pollution is referred to as non-point source water pollution; human induced pollution originating from sources such as agricultural and urban activities according to denr.sd.gov. The snow that is removed from roadways can contain salt, salt additives, heavy metals, asbestos, petroleum products, bacteria and organic chemicals. All of this makes for a pretty gross concoction for our waterways if you ask me.
Over 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S annually, which is roughly 137 lbs for every person; according to a study done by the University of Massachusetts. The problem is that as much as we need salt and salt additives to prevent our roads from feeling like a Slip N’ Slide we also have to be responsible with how much we use and how that treated snow poses a risk when removed improperly. When snow is disposed of improperly marine wildlife can be greatly affected by the added salt and contaminates contained in said snow. Freshwater animals need an internal salinity greater then the salinity of the water they live in, if this is not the case the fish have to use more energy to produce the ions that help them to keep water in their bodies, which leads to the added use of energy. The strain on wildlife as they deal with the added contaminants to their environment can lead to damaged cells and even cause death. The road salt actually reduces swelling of the Salmon eggs, which restricts the development and can cause deformities.
Now ideally some future genius will come up with a completely new method to clear our roads, but until then we can all do our part to minimize the road salt we use in our own driveways and sidewalks. Here are a few tips which suggest shoveling first, use salt on ice only, avoid applying salt near plants and be mindful of the salt that collects on your car because washing your care can lead to salt flowing off into storm drains. Many of us… myself included are guilty of spreading salt very liberally, sprinkling it like fairy dust over every square inch of driveway and sidewalk, so remember to apply only what is absolutely necessary.
Storing salt properly is also very important ( and I know what you’re thinking it seems like a lot of attention is being focused on something so small ). We can also make sure our cities and municipalities are being responsible with snow removal, many cities have mandates in place that require the placement of a silt fence between snow dumps and waterways. Keeping salt piles covered and keeping it stored a distance from bodies of water is also a way to prevent water pollution. Reporting cases of improper snow disposal or salt storage to city officials keeps our cities and ourselves responsible for the water quality for marine life that doesn’t have a voice of their own. It takes everyone to protect our environment, and as always remember to Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
KOB’s very own blogger