This Week in EPA Science

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

Research Recap graphic identifierThis weekend, the East Coast is preparing for the potentially record-breaking Winter Storm Jonas. So whether you’re waiting in a long line at the grocery store, already holed up at home, or enjoying the warm weather someplace far away, here’s a little snow-related reading to keep you occupied.

Are You Ready for a Snowstorm?
At the first mention of inclement weather, we often make a mad dash to the grocery store or hardware store to stock up on supplies. EPA’s Lina Younes shared some tips on how to avoid the panic and stay safe during severe storms.

Read about them in her blogs Don’t Panic. Be Prepared and Are you Ready for a Snowstorm?

The Importance of Snowpack
Long-term trends in snowpack provide important evidence that climate-related shifts are underway, and highlight the seriousness of water-resource and drought issues that Western states such as California currently face.

EPA scientist Mike Kolian explains more about snowpack as an environmental health indicator in the blog The Importance of Snowpack.

What Happens to Road Salt after the Snow has Melted?
Road salts are an important tool for making roads safer during ice and snowstorms. Every winter about 22 million tons of road salt and other de-icers are used nationwide. What happens to all that road salt after the snow melts? Is it bad for the environment?

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer provides an answer in the blog Got an Environmental Science Question? Ask an EPA Scientist!

About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Dog outside in the snow.

When not out in the snow with friends, enjoy the EPA Research Recap!

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Got an Environmental Science Question? Ask an EPA Scientist!

By Kacey Fitzpatrick

 

Front loader loads road salt into a large dump truck.

What happens to all that salt? Image courtesy of Maryland State Highway Administration

Have you ever had a question about something you saw and wished you had an expert you could ask? This happens to me all the time, so I decided to take advantage of working at EPA and start a new blog series called ‘Ask an EPA Scientist.’

I’m kicking off the series with a question that’s been on my mind recently.

Walking in a winter wonderland can be magical – but what about driving in one? Not so great. As I was driving (very slowly) through a snowstorm last week, I started wondering: What happens to all that road salt after the snow melts? Is it bad for the environment?

To find out, I asked EPA ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. who conducts research on riparian zones and stream restoration. He and two Agency colleagues recently published a paper (Cooper et al. 2014) looking at the effects of road salt on a local stream.

Below is what he told me.

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. at a stream restoration research site.

EPA Ecologist Paul Mayer, Ph.D. at a stream restoration research site.

Paul Mayer: Road salts are an important tool for making roads safer during ice and snowstorms. Every winter about 22 million tons of road salt and other de-icers are used nationwide. Some washes from roadways into nearby bodies of water. This is a growing concern for the health of our urban watersheds because it can affect water quality and aquatic organisms.

I’ve been part of a study collecting surface and ground water data in Minebank Run, an urban stream in Maryland, since November 2001. We found that salt levels (chloride and sodium) there are chronically elevated throughout the year.

Road salts can accumulate and persist in our waterways, often even into the summer months. We found that the levels are significantly higher downstream of a major nearby road (I-695 beltway), suggesting that this roadway is a significant source of salts in the watershed.

This is a concern for Minebank Run because such salinization may reduce the benefits of restoration work that has been done, limiting the benefits the stream provides the local community and across the watershed. Increased salinity in freshwater systems can also damage or kill vegetation. Other research has indicated that road salts represent a risk to the safety of drinking water sources in the Baltimore area and elsewhere (Kaushal et al. 2005).

The implication of our research and others’ is that stream ecosystems in areas where road salts are routinely applied are at risk of environmental damage and that human health may also be at risk if water supplies are affected.

Kacey: I’m glad I asked! I also found some additional information that includes what we can do to reduce the impact of road salt:

 

Ask an EPA Scientist!
Do you have your own environmental science questions you’d like to see featured on our blog? Please email them to Fitzpatrick.kacey@epa.gov, post them in the comments section below, or tweet them to @EPAresearch using #EnvSciQ. We’ll pick as many as we can to pass along to our scientists, get them answered, and share the Q&A here on this blog. Stay tuned!
About the Author: Curious science writer Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor working with EPA’s Science Communication team, and a frequent contributor to It All Starts with Science.

References Cited

Cooper, CA, PM Mayer, BR Faulkner. 2014. Effects of road salts on groundwater and surface water dynamics of sodium and chloride in an urban restored stream. Biogeochemistry 121:149-166. DOI: 10.1007/s10533-014-9968-z (Accessed at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10533-014-9968-z)

Kaushal, et al. 2005. Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. PNAS 102:13517-13520. (Accessed at http://www.pnas.org/content/102/38/13517.abstract.)

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

The Best Gifts Do Great Things

By: Una Song

Are you like me and struggle with coming up with great gift ideas during the holidays? Of course, everyone wants electronics these days. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 63 percent of U.S. adults plan to give the gift of technology this year. Tablets, laptops and TVs are popular gift items – I know my niece and nephew would love any one of these!

The great news is that you can give your friends and family the high-tech gifts they want AND help fight climate change by making one simple choice—ENERGY STAR. You can find ENERGY STAR certified options for the hottest products — smart or Ultra HD TVs, tablets, laptops, sound bars and more. Choosing products that have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR label means your gift will continue giving through energy savings. In fact, a home equipped with TVs, set-top boxes, a Blu Ray player and a home theatre in a box that have earned the ENERGY STAR, can save more than $280 over the life of the products.

best gifts

With an average of 24 electronics products in every home, there are lots of opportunities to save energy in every room of the house.

  • ENERGY STAR certified TVs are 25% more energy efficient than standard ones.
  • A certified sound bar is 78% more efficient.
  • A Blu-ray player that has earned the ENERGY STAR is up to 45% more efficient.

The next time you are looking for the perfect present, look for the ENERGY STAR. Show your loved ones that the best gifts can do great things.

Una Song works for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program and focuses on consumer electronics marketing. When she’s not surfing the internet, she’s playing with her two cats.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.