PLATTSBURGH - Snow and ice can be beautiful, but can also be treacherous and hazardous. That is why municipalities budget thousands of dollars every year for plowing and salting the roadways. Individual homeowners also maintain their properties through shoveling and salting - but at what cost to the environment?
It's estimated more than 20 million tons of sodium chloride are dumped on roadways across the country every year in an attempt to keep roads safe. Drivers know what salt can do to the appearance and performance of their vehicles. As it turns out, snow-melting products can have environmental implications as well.
Concerns about salt and chemical snow-melting products involve runoff that can contaminate nearby water supplies.
"We really have spent an amount of time looking at the issue," said Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Bernard C. Bassett, "especially in our rural areas where a lot of people still have wells and obviously we're plowing along the Saranac River."
Bassett added the town highway department did look at a liquid mixture used in Vermont, but decided it wasn't appropriate for the area.
Minnesota researchers discovered in early 2010 that, in the urban Twin Cities area, 70 percent of the salt applied to roads stayed within the region's watershed. Sodium chloride alone can affect the pH of water, changing the environment in which marine life lives, potentially causing certain species to die off and creating dead zones. It can also affect the sodium content of well water, which can be dangerous to individuals on sodium-restrictive diets.
In terms of vegetation alongside roadways, splashing from salty puddles can cause plants and trees to wither and soil to erode. Plus, salt accumulation at the edge of roads can be enticing to animals who will go there to feed. This can increase the risk of accidents with motorists.