Winter Road Salt Impacts Aquatic Ecosystems

Article by: Danelle Haake, National Great Rivers Research and Education Center,

As winter approaches, some of us look forward to the first snowfall of the season. Waking up to see a blanket of clean, white powder across the landscape can be a refreshing and renewing experience. Others of us might dread the first snow as we anticipate delayed or cancelled school days and traffic jams as drivers re-learn how to operate their vehicles on slushy pavement.

To help us with our winter travels, transportation agencies spread salt on roads and highways to melt snow, sleet, and ice that would otherwise accumulate. Residents and businesses add salt to sidewalks and parking lots. Most of this salt is large chunks of sodium chloride (NaCl), the same salt we use to season our food. Every year, more than 20 million tons of salt is spread on roads across the United States (source USGS).

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