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Study concludes road salt is threatening trees, wells, wildlife

WARRENSBURG - Road salt, according to a recent study, is not only deteriorating bridges and pavement and corroding vehicles, but it's killing trees, threatening water supplies and degrading the environment over the long term.

The study was conducted by the Adirondack Watershed Institute and funded by ADK Action. It's the third such report released in the last year that calls for changes in the way ice and snow is managed along highways.

Daniel Kelting of the Watershed Institute said that excessive salt use results in significant damage to both natural and man-made environments.

"We think the water, plants and wildlife of the Adirondack Park deserve special treatment from roads crews to protect them from harm," Kelting said, noting that salt also damages roads, bridges, vehicles and buildings - and is contaminating wells that provide drinking water.

The study indicates that salt levels in some Adirondack lakes - particularly those near roadways - contain up to 50 times or more the chloride than they should naturally.

Sodium Chloride in Schroon Lake is about 11 times it's desirable level, according to the report.

One of the study's recommendations is the creation of a "salt sensitivity map." The map would visualize specific areas where drinking water, plant-life and animal habitats are at particular risk.

"Creating an official salt-sensitivity map is the logical first step toward better protections," Kelting said.

Two previous studies were commissioned by the Adirondack Council and the University of Maine.

The studies indicate that roadside trees are dying in ever-greater numbers due to road salt, and that salt runoff into waterways may be encouraging chloride-resistant invasive species - such as milfoil and zebra mussels - to spread and choke out more sensitive native plants. Also, high chloride levels have been shown to damage lake ecosystems, contributing to algal blooms, eutrophication, and damage to fish and native aquatic plants.

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