Environmentalists Concerned About Road Salt Effects

NJ Spotlight News | February 27, 2014 | Energy & Environment

By Desirée Taylor
Senior Correspondent

Salt may make the roads safer after winter storms, but environmentalists say too much of it can adversely impact waterways.

“When the salt that’s mixed with snow and ice and starts running off through storm drains into rivers and streams, it actually raises the amount of salt in the reservoirs and that’s where it’s bad,” said Hackensack Riverkeeper Bill Sheehan.

Too much salt can be bad for humans on special diets and the ecosystem.

“United Water has already sent out a notice to customers. If they’re on a salt restricted diet because of heart problems or blood pressure problems, they should consult with a physician,” said Sheehan.

“It’s definitely a concern, especially in fresh waterways, lakes, streams. It can elevate salt levels, chloride levels to toxic conditions for fish and other aquatic life,” said Baykeeper Debbie Mans.

Salt isn’t the only concern. Mixed in the snow in many of these mounds are chemicals and debris. And when they melt, runoff is likely.

“What I’d be more worried about as a riverkeeper is what’s in these piles of snow besides salt. Often you wind up with is hydraulic fluid from the plows, oil and gas and other automotive waste that are just laying on the ground ambivalently and they get scooped up with the snow. And then garbage. And when the snow melts, a lot of that will get runoff into storm drains and river,” Sheehan said.

“When you see snow melt, you see spikes in levels,” said Delaware Riverkeeper Faith Zerbe. “In those streams, primarily fresh water, spikes can impact critters, the base chain for the fish, food chain for the fish.”

There are solutions. Environmentalists like the Delaware and Hackensack Riverkeepers networks are calling for stronger storm water rules and suggest municipalities use brine and other options for treating slick roads.