Environmentalists Raise Questions about Salting of NJ Roads

NJTV News | February 4, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Too much salt can be dangerous to humans and the environment alike. Is brining a better solution?

New Jersey commuters won’t soon forget the snowstorm that stalled the northern part of the state last November 15. A few inches of snow brought traffic to a halt because the roads weren’t salted. Since then, the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy has had the brine and salt trucks out at even the mention of snow. But some environmentalists say that strategy is not without risk.

“Salt has been named by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as a pollutant. In the last 30 years … we’ve seen a doubling in the salt in our waters,” said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

Too much salt can be deadly for aquatic life and plants. It can be harmful to humans as well, noted Rutgers professor Daniel Van Abs. For people on low-salt diets, “having salt in their drinking water is a problem,” said Van Abs, an associate professor of Practice for Water, Society and Environment for Rutgers University.

Both Potosnak and Van Abs are cognizant of road-safety issues. “You have a public safety issue, which is the road safety issue. And then you have a public health and environmental health issue, and there’s no perfect answer to this. So, the question is having the right people with the technical expertise making the decisions as to how much salt is needed for any particular storm,” said Van Abs.

The Department of Transportation in a statement, said it is “a good steward of the environment. We don’t needlessly spread salt. Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to provide a safe traveling environment…”

Brining seems to something that everyone can get behind. Brine, said Van Abs, is “salt water, instead of rock salt. And what we found, in public works, officials, DOT, in the use of brine is that they can get the roads just as clear with 30 to 40 percent less salt than they had been using previously. In terms of environmental effects and public health effects, that’s good.”

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