Officials: Too much salting on roads can harm the environment

Salt, which contains chloride, continues to be the old stand-by to keep our roads safe.

The downside is that it can be harmful to the environment.

According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, salting comes at an environmental price that requires all of us to step up and prevent chloride pollution.

The agency reports already 47 bodies of water tested above quality standard for chloride, 39 of which are in the metro area.

“Salt is without a doubt the best, most efficient way to get ice off the road, but there are environmental issues,” said Kevin Gutknecht, a MNDOT spokesman. “We are hard at work all the time trying to figure out ways to reduce the amount of salt we use on the roadways.”

The MPCA estimates more than 350,000 tons of salt are tossed on metro area roads every year. But once temperatures dip below 15 degrees, most salt stops working – another reason the MPCA insists less is more.

“Salt is toxic. It only takes a teaspoon of salt basically to permanently pollute five gallons of water,” said Brooke Asleson, the MPCA Watershed specialist.

Asleson suggests using a hand spreader when laying salt.

One heaping cup of salt spread out with three inches between granules can melt about 250 sq. ft. of ice – about two parking stalls of space MPCA reps say.

Other state agencies also now exercise care when salting our roads, too.

“It’s always a concern,” said Colin Cox, the spokesman for Hennepin County Public Works.

Cox said operators who clear 570 miles of county roadway in Hennepin County work by the same rule: more salt does not equal more melting.

“We get questions about, ‘why are you putting so much salt down?’ and other times we get questions about ‘shouldn’t there be more salt down?’ so it is a delicate balance,” Cox said.

A balance we can all afford to strike if only to prevent slipping up and harming the earth, contaminating water we ultimately drink.

Another way we can reduce salt use, according to the MPCA, is by making liquid salt, diluting the salt you already have in water and spraying it on surfaces before they freeze.

Asleson said liquid salt prevents ice from forming and melts it more effectively.

For more smart salting tips click here.