Take Winter with a Grain of Salt

By Christina Catanese

It’s about that time of year when the Mid-Atlantic region starts preparing the snow plows and pulling out the road salt. In most of our region this winter, we’ve had a lot of warm days and no big “snowmageddons” so far, but the season is still young!

When big snow storms strike, how do you fight back? Methods like shoveling, snow plows, snow blowers, and applying sand and deicing salt keep roads clear and people safe. But did you ever think about the environmental impact of clearing snow and ice?

Although rock salt is an effective way to clear roads and driveways, issues can arise when the snow is gone and the salt is left behind. As the snow melts in the spring, the salt dissolves and runs off the road into storm drains and nearby water bodies. This can harm aquatic life like fish and plants. Human health can be impacted as well if the salt reaches drinking water supplies.

Many towns have moved from applying to salt to highways and are now applying brine, which has less environmental impact.  Check out this link to learn more about some innovations in snow removal, including a method being piloted by Maryland that sprays a mixture of sugar beets and brine onto highways.

So when the next big winter storm strikes, strike back, but in an environmentally friendly way. Here are some recommended actions to reduce salt application:

car-snow1. Use the Right Material: There are many options beyond salt and sand, like less toxic chemicals and even things like clean kitty litter.
2. Use the Right Amount: More isn’t necessarily better. Warmer roads need less salt, and roads below 10º F will not benefit from rock salt at all. Applying less salt is also a more economical choice. Snow clean-up costs are reduced, as are damages to cars, roads, and bridges.
3. Apply at the Right Place: Apply salt where it will do most good, like hills, curves, shaded sections of road, and bridges. Use discretion when applying salt near sensitive streams or in drinking water source water protection areas.
4. Apply at the Right Time: Don’t wait until snow is falling to get started. It takes more salt to melt accumulated snow than it does to prevent accumulation.
5. Use Proper Storage Techniques: Salt and sand piles should always be covered to prevent runoff, and should be located away from streams and wetlands.
Read more about best management practices for applying and storing road salt while protecting water supplies here.

Is your municipality practicing smart salt application with these actions? Are you practicing them at your home? Do you know of any other environmentally-friendly ways to clean up snow? Let us know how you’re staying both safe and green this winter season.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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