The potential hazard of salting roads in winter

Cloesup of road salt with gravel and sand used in icy conditions in winter.
Road salt is essential for winter safety, but it has its detriments. (/stock)

Natalia Welzenbach-Marcu | January 16th, 2019

Salting roads and sidewalks in winter is absolutely essential to reducing ice and sleet in the winter after streets have been paved. But road salt may have a negative impact on the environment overall.

Road salt is just that–salt, made of sodium chloride. Ferrocyanide, an anti-caking agent, and traces of iron and phosphorus exist in road salt as well. Salt melts and runs off into storm drains, making its way into drinking water; the chloride, specifically, is the biggest offender.

It only takes a teaspoon of salt to contaminate up to five gallons of water.

Salt can also damage soil and affect its ability to retain water. It can hurt plants and make pets and aquatic life ill. Salt is potentially fatal to birds that ingest it as well.

While road salt has a laundry list of environmental offenses, it’s still an imperative part of winter safety. Using less salt generally yields the same ice-melting effects; generally speaking, a coffee cup’s worth of road salt should be enough for a standard driveway.


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