For Immediate Release: January 29, 2018
Jorge Amselle, Jorge@saltinstitute.org
Naples, FL—Each winter drivers across North America depend on snowfighters to keep roads safe and clear. This requires a combination of plowing and road salt, the single most important winter maintenance material. Despite their best efforts we still see more than 116,000 Americans injured and over 1,300 killed on snowy, slushy or icy pavement. Without the use of road salt these numbers would be far worse. A study conducted by Marquette University found that salt saves lives reducing accidents by up to 88 percent and injuries by up to 85 percent. Road salt is also vital to local and state economies by preventing costly winter shutdowns of the roadways. A study by IHS Global Insight for the American Highway Users Alliance found that snowstorms cost states as much as $700 million per day in both direct and indirect costs if roads are impassable.
In addition to protecting lives and commerce, snowfighters also take seriously their role in protecting the environment, including our lakes and rivers. In fact, for over 40 years, the Salt Institute has promoted the latest environmentally-friendly application technologies and sustainable practices in the management of road salt, from storage to snowfighting operations.
This winter season, several news reports have raised alarms about rising levels of chlorides in lakes and rivers, blaming road salt even though many of these chlorides come from naturally occurring and man-made sources not related to road salting. One study published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of the Sciences (Salting our freshwater lakes) directly blames road salt for rising chloride levels in North American lakes. However, chloride levels in the majority of the examined lakes either stayed the same or declined and were far below EPA toxicity standards.
Several better studies have shown that when road salt is properly applied environmental impacts can be effectively managed and significantly minimized. Modern roadways themselves are not a natural feature of the environment and are specifically engineered to satisfy our demand for personal and commercial mobility – factors that are basic to the quality of life. This includes safe and sustainable snowfighting practices when needed to protect lives and commerce.
A comprehensive study by environmental researchers at the University of Waterloo and Environment Canada examined groundwater monitoring data and found that chloride levels were reduced by half when best practices were employed. In another study researchers at the Guelph University found that snowmelt runoff from major storm water outfalls could be collected and recycled to reduce chloride peaks in the streams without adversely affecting road safety.
Examples of how agencies have continued to improve their winter maintenance operations would include pre-wetting their rock salt prior to applying to the road (which reduces scatter and bounce of the rock salt substantially) and also using salt brine as a pre-storm application to prevent snow and ice from bonding to the pavement and thus making plowing more effective.
Salt is our most important winter resource, because it saves lives and protects the economy. It is economical and extremely effective. The benefits of road salting pays for itself within 25 minutes of application. The Salt Institute, which represents North American salt producers, will continue to support safe and sustainable snowfighting that both promotes public safety and mobility and protects the environment.