Nationwide, more than 22 million tons of salt are applied to roads annually—add to that number the copious amounts that are spread on business parking lots, sidewalks, and driveways. While it might be commonly used, salt isn’t the friendly de-icer it may seem to be.
Salt that is introduced to the environment breaks down into sodium and chloride ions that travel with water into the soil, onto plants, and into ground and surface waters. One teaspoon of road salt contaminates 5 gallons of water—forever! When salt crystals are spread, birds often mistake them for seeds and ingest them. Consuming even small quantities of salt can cause toxicosis and death in birds. Salt-laden snow and ice that is shoveled onto adjacent lawn and plants can cause damage to the plants and permanently contaminate the soil. When salt damages vegetation, it can have a significant impact on the natural habitat of the area. Food, plants, shelters, breeding, and nesting sites can all be at risk of destruction. When this happens, exotic invasive species can gain a foothold.
While average homeowners have little or no control over municipal salt use, they can have an impact on what is used on their own driveways and sidewalks. A good shoveling job can remove most of the problematic slippery areas before they develop, but if persistent ice and compacted snow causes hazardous conditions, there are alternatives to chloride-based treatments that can improve traction. Cat litter and sand provide traction and can speed melting, while a variety of non-salt de-icers are also commercially available.
Protect your plants, soil, groundwater, and surface waters while keeping your sidewalks safe this winter by saying “hold the salt!” and using environmentally safe materials.