While Vancouverites are desperately trying to get their hands on ice melting salt, many seem to be forgetting the impact the melting agent has on the environment.
Environment and Climate Change Canada conducted a five-year study on ice-melting salt and found sufficient concentrations of road salts “pose a risk to plants, animals and the aquatic environment.”
Salt does not simply disappear off the roads. The meltwater from snow and ice carries the salt away into lakes, streams and groundwater supplies, and this can have a negative impact on wildlife and water sources.
Animals, plants at risk
According to Hans Schreier, a professor emeritus at UBC’s faculty of Land and Water Systems, trace amounts of salt are not bad, “but at high concentrations can affect fish, amphibians, and invertebrates in water plants and soils.”
Just like table salt, road salt is composed of sodium and chloride (NaCl). Salt’s chloride component can have a toxic impact on plants, vegetation, and wildlife.
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“There is no natural process by which chlorides are broken down or removed from the environment,” Schreier tells Daily Hive.
“Both sodium and chloride are highly soluble and mobile. Too much sodium application to soils will result in cation exchange and results in crust formation that changes the hydrological properties and in high concentrations sodium is toxic to most plants.”
No easy alternatives
While there are other ways to get rid of ice on roads and walkways, environmentally friendly substitutes are hard to come by.
“Some of the less environmentally sensitive compounds are expensive,” said Schreier. “Sand is best but creates a bit of turbidity once it enters the hydrological cycle.”