TOO MUCH SALT?
How Much Salt Gets Thrown on Our Roads Every Year—and Why is this Bad News?
By Brian Merchant
Brooklyn, NY, USA | Fri Jan 09 13:00:00 GMT 2009
If you live in one of the snowier parts of the US—say the Midwest or the Northeast—you can probably attest to the importance of road salt. Without it, vehicles would have trouble gaining traction on the roads, and we’d see a lot more accidents. But do you have any idea just how much salt is used across the nation every year?
Hint: it’s a lot.
Some 11 million tons, actually, according to the EPA. Now let’s try that with the zeros: 11,000,000 tons of road salt (it looks more impressive that way, doesn’t it?) get thrown on our streets and highways every year. Okay, fine. That’s a big number—but there are a lot of numerically huge stats I could dig up to attempt to impress you. So what’s the problem with all that salt?
The problem is, all that salt has to go somewhere after it’s spread around on the roadways. And one of its prime destinations is our groundwater. It can enter our public water supply (much of which comes from groundwater) and contaminate surface water, too. This is because salt is extremely soluble, and is therefore easily transported with storm water or melted snow and ice runoff (and yes, this happens with the landfill-bound garlic salt they’re using on roads in Iowa, too).
Unless you like drinking salt water—hey, some people do it as a cure for the common cold—we should probably start looking for some solutions. These include using alternative deicers like calcium chloride or magnesium chloride—both of which are unfortunately more expensive than plain old salt, but pose less of a threat to water supplies. Also, we need to make sure road salt is covered and stored properly, so that it doesn’t lump together as a result of seasonal weather.
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