University of Dubuque research shows highly contaminated waterways due to de-icing products

An environmental chemistry professor recommends people be cautious with how much product they use
An environmental chemistry professor said an increased used in road salt may be leading to more contaminated waterways.
Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 10:52 PM CDT
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Adam Hoffman teaches environmental chemistry at the University of Dubuque. He has two ongoing water quality research projects with his students.

“We have 50 different spots, so we stop around the county quarterly and we monitor it for a variety of different things,” Hoffman said. “Sodium chloride is just one of them.”

The second project came from a conversation with a staff member at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.

“He had been looking at some clams they had put in the restored part of the Bee Branch,” Hoffman said. “They put them in different spots and then he noticed some different survivorship characteristics, or some mussels did really well in some of his containers, other mussels did poorly and he was speculating that it might be from different water quality.”

Their research revealed some waterways have higher chloride levels, specifically those closer to roads and sidewalks, like the Bee Branch Creek.

“Those are not approaching the levels where they kill stuff right away,” Hoffman said. “But they are approaching the levels we consider of chronic concern, so over long periods of time they can pose threats to the aquatic life.”

Hoffman said this could likely be from cities and property owners adding too much salt and de-icing products to the roads.

John Klostermann, Dubuque’s public works director, explained his team tries to keep both safety and the environment in mind while doing its work.

“As soon as the pavement starts to get covered we need to be out there and we need to try and at least do the best we can to make sure we have safe travel conditions throughout the storm,” Klostermann said. “We are not out there applying heavy amounts of de-icer throughout the storm, we do not continue to lay down the de-icer during heavy time periods that the storm is going on.”

But both Hoffman and Klostermann say there are steps people could do to help out the waterways. That includes using salt and de-icing products moderately and replacing salt with sand when it gets too cold outside.

“Sometimes people are thinking more salt is better, but that is really not entirely true and, especially when it gets really cold,” Hoffman said. “So a little bit of salt or a salt solution prior to snow coming will be a lot more beneficial in helping surfaces stay less slippery than more added on later.”

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