ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Even with just a few days left until spring, there’s still an opportunity for snow in the forecast, which means more opportunities left for salting the roads.
However, recent studies have shown that road salt is increasing the salinity in freshwater bodies such as Lake Ontario.
Road salt has been used across the U.S. for decades as a cheap and effective deicing tool on roads during the winter, but every year the concern grows that the road salt is doing more harm than good to the environment as chloride levels in freshwater bodies steadily increase.
Dr. Shelley Arnott, a Biology Professor at Queen’s University, says that both Canada and the U.S. have guidelines in place to protect aquatic life and keep salt levels low, but recent studies show that current thresholds aren’t enough in preventing the toxic effects already being felt by the reduction of zooplankton in large freshwater bodies such as Lake Ontario.
“If we’re seeing changes in the zooplankton, we’re going to see changes in the algae and our study showed that in 50% of the experiments that we did, we saw an increase in algae,” Dr. Arnott said. “And so that can influence drinking water quality, it can influence recreation and it can also through the zooplankton potentially influence fish production.”
The connections of fresh waterways and their proximity to the roads play a big role in this increase as well.
Take the Genesee River for example. There are certain roads such as East River road with portions of it that only stretch about ten to twenty feet away from the river itself, which means there’s not much getting in the way for road salt to get into the water and end up in places such as Lake Ontario.
Road salt is used because it saves lives, which is why alternate methods that try to reduce the amount of salt used on roads include using brine; but there are still changes that need to be made.
“We need to start thinking about what we’re going to do now, what changes can we make, while we still can,” Dr. Arnott said. “So, Lake Ontario is still below a threshold that we think is toxic, but you know if it continues to increase then it can be a problem.”
Dr. Arnott says that as individuals we can do our part by shoveling our walkways and driveways instead of relying on road salt to help reduce the amount of ice we see.