Experts expect negative impact from salt dumped on icy roads

Published: Feb. 27, 2019 at 10:16 PM CST
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It's been a winter filled with snow and ice for eastern Iowa and that means using a lot of salt to keep roads safe. Experts say all that salt can actually be doing harm to the environment.

University of Iowa Research Engineer Chris Jones said with certainty that the amount of salt being put out will degrade the stream, at least on a smaller scale

"That melt water reaches the stream but increases the level of salt and other contaminants in the stream," said Jones."When the snows melt in the spring, we do see chloride levels increase in our stream. Without a doubt it does have a negative effect."

The good news is that it wouldn't be immediate. Even with all the salt the city has used this year, the impacts would take time to build up.

The issue is what all of it can do over years.

"Will we have massive die offs of aquatic life? Probably not. This is a long term phenomenon," said Jones. "Our water has degraded over many decades. We mix our salt with sand, which cuts down on the amount of salt used."

The City of Cedar Rapids said it's doing what it can to cut down on stream degradation. When possible, crews substitute salt for the liquid stuff, like brine or beet juice.

Residents can help as well by watching how much salt they're putting on the ground and to use it conservatively.

"A lot of times we see salt in piles and on porches. You don't need it in excess. Use as you need it," said Jones. "We don't want anybody to have a broken leg but preserve the integrity of our streams and lakes too."

Jones advises those who are using salt to clear off the area outside their homes to sweep the salt off the sidewalk if it's still there so that it doesn't wash off into the storm sewers. The city said they do the same in the Spring.