Excess Road Salt Use Leads to Unnecessary Wildlife Issues

by Jonah Sachs ‘20

As extreme temperatures plague the Earth with prolonged heat and cripplingly frigid temperatures thanks to environmental trends of the recent past, sporadic periods of warmth and arctic frost cycle from day to day. One of the few ways that people combat the frequent snowfall is with a deadly synthetic material that is detrimental to many aspects of the environment around us: road salt. The excessive amount of salt used by citizens around the United States leads to detrimental concerns including watershed contamination, damage to wildlife and floral life near roads, and an increased chance for organisms to be residing near roads.

It is common knowledge among the scientific community that sodium chloride lowers the overall freezing temperature of water. In 1938, salt was first used on a New Hampshire road and America has not looked back since. De-icing had never been so easy in the flourishing industrial world of cars, trucks, and automobiles emerging after the second world war. Each year, roughly twenty million tons of salt in the U.S. are used on the roads to prevent ice from forming and to get rid of it soon after.

Numerous studies have shown that the majority of roadway salt runs off into local streams and bays, leading to larger, previously sustainable bodies of water. Home to millions of organisms, the ponds are often freshwater and require a specific salinity, but the increased runoff of added salts can cause horrific effects on the sealife, including death. Additionally, the added salt can act as a salt lick for many animals, a place where animals can go to lick essential mineral nutrients from a deposit of salts, including deer and moose. Oftentimes, this attracts the animals looking to increase their bodily sodium levels, which brings them closer to the roads, increasing the chances of being hit.

Many states around the United States, including Maryland, have agreed to dilute their salt with water, achieving the same effect while using a significantly less amount of sodium. This, however, is limited to large, industrial producers, and many average citizens still don’t know the overall impact that salt has on the environment. A large concern with the excessive sodium use does not come entirely from industrial plows, but rather the average American, dumping tons of salt onto their driveway and back roads without a thought.

If each and every person residing in America alone diluted the salt they use on back roads and sidewalks, an effect would be seen in the health of our lakes, ponds, and terrestrial ecosystems. Although not a permanent solution, the first step in any cause is awareness, and if every salt-user in the United States became a little more aware of how much they really use, a difference could be seen in the near future in our lakes and our forests. All it takes is a little consciousness and a little less salt.