The Midwest and the Northeast are currently covered in snow. This will come to no surprise to anyone who lives in these areas and has a window. Those of us who live in these snow-covered areas are also familiar with the gift and the curse that is road salt. The US has been plowing and salting our roads since the 1940s to ensure we don't end up stranded on an Atlanta highway. Unsurprisingly, this generous use of road salt has had an environmental cost.
Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey published a report where they monitored streams at sites across the US (but primarily located in the Midwest) and showed that:
- Over the past half-century, the amount of salt in our streams has been increasing. Some sites exceed EPA criteria for chronic water quality.
- Salt concentrations expectedly increase in the winter, especially if they have more snow.
- Also salt concentrations are higher than normal during the summer. They believe the salt seeps into the groundwater during the winter and slowly escapes throughout the year.
- Sites near urban areas have higher salt concentrations than rural ones.
A study done by Environment Canada in 2001 showed that aquatic organisms (again no surprise there) take the biggest direct ecological hit from the amount of salt we let into our waterways. In a USGS press release, the lead author of the study Steve Corsi said "Findings from this study emphasize the need to consider deicer management options that minimize the use of road salt while still maintaining safe conditions."
via USGS Newsroom