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New report offers possible solutions to salt usage

February 15, 2019
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - A new report from the Cary Institute highlights the effects road salt is having on human health, groundwater and infrastructure while proposing several solutions, including several already in use locally.

Local groups such as the AuSable River Association and the Paul Smith's College Adirondack Watershed Institute have been working on reducing salt application on roads for several years. Their work has been backed up by numerous studies that show salt is impacting drinking water wells and lakes and rivers.

In reaction, a widespread effort has taken place that includes a reduced speed limit on state Route 86 between Lake Placid and Wilmington, increased use of sand by local governments and a public awareness campaign.

The Cary Institute report details the spread of road salt into the ecosystem, backing up the AsRA and AWI's work.

"The accumulation of salt in groundwater and drinking water reservoirs is perhaps the biggest environmental concern related to road salt pollution," the report states. "Recent studies have shown that the levels of salt in groundwater are related to proximity to roads and the total coverage of pavement and other surfaces that are impervious to water."

In response to the threat, the Cary Institute recommends actions that highway crews can take, including accurately measuring the amount of salt applied; wetting salt prior to application (which slows runoff); "smart" technology such as variable edge plows and sensors that help determine how much salt should be applied in certain conditions; and proper salt storage.

The Cary Institute acknowledges that the upfront cost of some of these measures may be an impediment, but also notes that salt use has very real costs to cars, bridges, roads, the natural environment and drinking water wells.

The report also has recommendations for homeowners, including shoveling more often and ensuring there is only a thin layer of ice before applying any sort of de-icer.

"Over-dependence on road salt has come at a cost to infrastructure and the environment. Scientific evidence is piling up: when salt-treated roads occur near lakes, streams, reservoirs, wetlands, and well fields, there is a trend toward freshwater salinization," the report concludes. "Road salt use continues to rise, just as we are recognizing that salt pollution has a legacy effect in the environment, taking decades to flush out. It is a problem we are handing down to future generations.

"Balancing environmental stewardship with safety and fiscal responsibility is possible. Creating a culture of change will be necessary. This includes changing public attitudes about levels of service, investing in research on best management practices, and continuing education programs and training to ensure the best practices are accessible. The time to act is now."



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