De-icing the road of snow could be a relief to motorists and pedestrians until a new research unveils the underlying impact on freshwater.
Winter is coming which means accumulation of snow and thick ice on the roads. People in the US and probably in some other countries that usually have snow, use salts to de-ice the roads to assure road safety and prevent accidents. What most do not know is the adverse effect of this practice during winter. According to a new research, using salts to de-ice the roads adds to the abrupt increase and broad issue throughout the US.
The research indicates that at least 0ne-third of the streams and rivers in the country became saltier in more than two decades in the past. By the year 2100, more than half of the freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams will become 50% much saltier than before. The rise in salinity will not only affect plants and animals that thrive in the freshwater but also humans through their drinking water.
University of Maryland, College Park biogeochemist, Sujay Kaushal along with his team published their findings in January 2018. The issues discovered in using salt to de-ice the road are as follows:
– salt is mixed with drinking water
– pipes become corroded with rust due to the high salt content from the water that runs through it
– aside from sodium chloride, there are other kinds of salt present including magnesium chloride and sodium bicarbonate
– salts can also loosen other pollutants like manganese which is a neurotoxin found from old pipes
On December 3, California State University, Monterey Bay freshwater scientist, John Olson proved Kaushal’s findings to be accurate. If the use of salt to de-ice roads continues, the number of affected freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams will become two-fold (about 3 to 4% increase) making them saltier than ever and will no longer be suitable for irrigation.
Salts are also coating the insides of home boilers as well as the cooling tanks of power plants. It also envelops the lands where crops are grown. Moreover, the white sometimes transparent crystalline substance traumatizes plants and animal species in freshwater ecosystems, in some situations until they vanish and no longer exist. If this persists, there will be no more balance in the biodiversity of plants and animals and could promote disruption in the food chain.
“Today, the saltiest streams are in the northern Great Plains. Salinity is naturally high, and mining and oil and gas extraction are releasing more salt by exposing new rock and pumping out saline groundwater,” suggests Olson.
The salt that is used to de-ice the road is the same salt found in the dining table. It shifts the water’s freezing point. Higher salt content promotes lower freezing point compared to water with less saltiness. This practice could be a helpful remedy to prevent icy roads but it is worth noting that 50 lbs. of salt can pollute 10,000 gals. of water.
TRIVIA: The American Rock Salt is the biggest salt mining company in the US and produces 10,000 to 18,000 tons of salt every day.