Road Salt as a Deicer Negatively Impacts the Environment

By Ben Hopper

As we’ve made our return back to campus for the Spring semester, the winter has left us plenty of ice. This ice of course has to be melted, but the first way many think of doing so, through the use of road salt, may not be the best option; as the use of road salt has some severely negative consequences on the environment.

As road salt melts the ice, the runoff produced ends up in the soil as well as in freshwater bodies such as ponds, lakes, and streams. The sodium and chloride that compose road salt ultimately reduce both plant growth and vigor due to how these elements impact the soil’s density, compaction, drainage, and aeration.

In regards to bodies of water, road salt can disrupt aquatic ecosystems. The increase in salt makes the water no longer a liveable environment for the many animals living there. Due to this, the use of road salt can directly lead to the deaths of animals in freshwater bodies.

According to an article written by Jeremy Hinsdale for Columbia Climate School, “Chloride is toxic to aquatic life, and even low concentrations can produce harmful effects in freshwater ecosystems. High chloride levels in water can inhibit aquatic species’ growth and reproduction, impact food sources, and disrupt osmoregulation in amphibians. Some 40 percent of urban streams in the U.S. already have chloride levels that exceed the safe guidelines for aquatic life.”

But still, ice can’t just be left unthawed, and with road salt being an unsustainable option concerning melting it, alternatives must be found. And there are many alternatives to road salt available to melt ice, such as sugar beet juice mixed with salt brine.

Using a mixture of beet juice and salt brine has great potential to melt ice. Road salt melts ice by lowering the freezing point of the ice making it unable to form; but where road salt reduces the freezing point to 5 degrees, beet juice mixed with salt brine can lower the freezing point to -20. Additionally, this mix of  beet juice and salt brine contains less salt and due to beet juices naturally sticking properties, it won’t run off into waterways.

Although this method is more sustainable, it certainly isn’t without its issues. The American Physiological Society conducted a study that found mixes of beet juice and ice brine have caused bodily stress to mayflies. According to the study mayflies in a control group exposed to mixes of beet juice and ice brine were found to retain “significantly more fluid while salt levels were elevated, which can compromise organ function.”

Using deicers is necessary in the winter to keep roads and pathways clear of ice. But it’s important to consider the consequences of deicers like road salt and to try and use more sustainable methods. Although beet juice is more sustainable it’s important to still consider the effect it has on mayflies.

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