Fearing the impact copious amounts of salt has on the nation's waterways, cities across the Midwest and Northeast are turning to alternative methods of thawing frozen roads.
Beet juice, molasses, beer waste and (in a Wisconsin county, unsurprisingly) cheese brine have started being used as suitable replacements for breaking down ice on roads and sidewalks. This change comes after growing evidence that the salt traditionally dumped onto roads are harming our lakes, rivers and streams.
Each year, more than 20 million tons of sodium chloride crystals are used, according to [The News-Herald]. The salt runs off the roads and into the waterways, increasing the salinity of hundreds of lakes and putting wildlife at risk.
"There has been a sense of alarm on the impacts of road salt on organisms and ecosystems," Victoria Kelly, a road salt expert at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, told The News-Herald. "We've seen increasing concentrations in river water, lakes, streams."
While road salt is not being eliminated completely, scientists are looking at ways it can be used in lesser quantities with greater efficiency. Last year, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that more than 40 percent of the 327 lakes tested had experienced long-term salinization from the salt pollution. It is estimated that almost 50 lakes throughout the Northeast could surpass the Environmental Protection Agency's chloride threshold concentration by 2050.
It's not just the freshwater ecosystems that are harmed by runoff salt. Salt corrosion causes billions of dollars in damage each year to roads, according to The News-Herald.
There have been multiple studies that show the harmful effects of increasing salt concentration on the freshwater environments. Growth rates of rainbow trout have decreased, zooplankton are less abundant and fish, plants and amphibians are dying, The News-Herald reports.
Though salt is harming the environment, Caleb Dobbins, New Hampshire's highway maintenance engineer, told The News-Herald he doesn't see salt being replaced nationwide by a substitute anytime soon due to the increased expenses the change would demand.
Hopefully, a viable solution can be discovered before the ecosystems are too severely damaged.
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