Salting roads negatively impacts the environment
City and county limit salt use to address concerns
December 27, 2016
A record amount of snow fell over Christmas weekend, which means roads and sidewalks have been peppered with salt rocks.
While salt, or sodium chloride, plays a role in keeping streets safe and free of ice, it also has negative impacts on the environment.
Molly Brooks, Recycle Utah's outreach and communications director, said the chloride component of the compound is toxic to aquatic life, which isn't good when salt ends up in snow run-off and then in streams.
"It can also impact vegetation and other wildlife," Brooks said. "When we use salt on the roads, it gets into ground water and into the soil."
Recycle Utah wants people to know birds can often mistake salt for seeds, a mix-up that can lead to death.
Salt also isn't good for wildlife, since deer and elk like to lick it from streets, Brooks said, adding it doesn't make life easy for mankind's furry companions either.
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"If your dog is walking on the salt, it can be dangerous for their paws," she said. "It can cause some cracking, bleeding, irritation and that kind of thing."
Park City and Summit County officials are aware of the negative impacts of using salt to clear local roads. Troy Dayley, Park City's street manager, said the city tries to limit its use of sodium chloride when it sends plows to clear the city's 126 lane-miles.
"More so in the last couple of years, we have become very aware of salt concerns," he said.
Dayley said the plows the city uses are calibrated to pour 300 to 305 pounds of salt per lane-mile, but the municipality is selective when it comes to where salt from the Great Salt Lake is dumped.
"If it is going to be a warm storm and the sun is going to come out, the only places we will salt are hills, stop signs and sharp curves," he said.
Dayley said the city takes full advantage of the sun when it can, meaning Dayley pays attention to temperatures when a storm is on the horizon.
"The more we use the sun, the better off we are, and it saves money, too," he said.
Derrick Radke, Summit County Public Works Director and department head, said the county follows a similar practice and sets priorities for which roads get salted and plowed.
Radke also said the county, in charge of clearing county-designated streets and roads in some of the East Side's smaller municipalities, also opted to purchase a different kind of salt to limit how much is poured when clearing roads.
"Summit County uses Redmond Salt," he said. "It is a mineral salt mined from a quarry in central Utah. We believe it works better and that we use less than the white salt extracted from the Great Salt Lake."
Brooks said using salt to keep streets free of ice is the less expensive route, but there are alternatives. She said hardware and feed stores sell salt-free de-icers.
"They are more expensive, so it's understandable why people continue to use salt instead of those," she said. "In general those are more eco-friendly and not dangerous to wildlife and vegetation."
Brooks also has suggestions for Park City residents who want to help the environment while keeping their driveways slip-free.
"To provide more traction, you can use sand, ash from the fireplace or coffee grounds," she said. "Also the darker colors, like in coffee grounds, will absorb more heat and help to melt the snow and ice."
Brooks said pouring pickle brine or sugar beet juice is another solution.
"It's been said that pickle brine helps to melt ice and snow," she said. "Sugar beet juice helps lower the melting point of ice and snow. Those are both safe for animals and people."
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