Now Reading
Eroding Roads

Eroding Roads

The Environmental Effects of Deicing in Winter Conditions

By Emma Echelmeier

Icy roads are not safe, but neither is the salt used to deice them. 

Every wonderful winter season brings lots of snow, which can be a great thing for some people, and less than great for others. Regardless, anyone living in a cold and snowy place knows the blessing it is to drive on deiced roads. 

Light snow carpets a mystical landscape. Photo by Emma Echelmeier

While the act of deicing roads makes for safer travel, the salt used has a negative impact on the environment. 16-35 million tons of road salt is used per year in the United States. [1] Because people rely on road salt to help keep their roads clear, high amounts of it are used, creating even bigger problems for surrounding natural environments. [2]  

The salt not only erodes the roads themselves, but can even damage metal and dilute water runoff, making nearby freshwater salty. [3] This creates problems for animals that rely on the environment and end up drinking the saline runoff water and eating the vegetation grown in the polluted soil. [4] 

The issue with road salt is that it takes many years to fully leave the environment, prolonging the damage to an area. [5] It causes detrimental effects specifically for aquatic animals that have to live in the contaminated water. [6] 

See Also

Diamond dust amplifies the beauty of this alpine forest. Photo by Emma Echelmeier

Luckily, there are ways to reduce the impact of road salt. Using smaller amounts of deicer and only using it after removing snow are ways to lessen the impact. [7] Pre-treatment to roadways can help during the winter season, as well as using alternative deicers. [8] The alternative road salts are generally more expensive and made of less corrosive materials yet are still effective at keeping ice off the road. [9] They are environmentally friendly in many ways, because they biodegrade quickly, leaving a minimal trace. [10] These salts have less of an impact of wildlife, and they do not erode the ground. [11] 

While the road salts generally used to clear snow in the winter effect the environment, there are alternatives available to lessen their impact and still provide a way for safe travel. 

Citations 

  1. Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. (n.d.). Road salt. Retrieved from https://rb.gy/m2nkjj
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Snow & Ice Salt & Chemicals Unlimited, LLC. (2015, December 17). Safe ice melt for the environment? A deicer comparison. Retrieved from https://rb.gy/dmmsuu.   
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
  1. Ibid. 
Scroll To Top