Monday, August 25, 2014

Organizations Seek Alternatives to Road Salt

SnowplowSalt contamination of our streams, watersheds and aquifers from aggressive use of salt in winter road maintenance has become a major threat to the ecology of the Adirondacks, local advocates warn.

Finding ways to minimize or avoid that threat while keeping roads safe is the goal of the third annual Adirondack Winter Road Maintenance Conference, which will explore alternatives to current road salting and clearing policies at Paul Smith’s College on September 16, from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

“ and the Adirondack Council invite the public to join us for an update on the progress made since the last conference in 2012,” said Lee Keet, Water Quality Chair of  “After this conference we will make additional recommendations for action to curb this growing problem.”

“Some of the Park’s best research scientists have been studying the road salt problem and its impact on the health of the Park’s environment and our communities,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “Road salt takes a toll on road, bridges, fish, wildlife, aquatic plants, roadside trees, wild flowers and water quality.  We need to implement workable alternatives that keep roads safe and water clean.”

Studies presented at the first road salt conference in 2010 documented the impact that current winter road maintenance procedures are having on Adirondack groundwater.  An additional 2012 study authored by Dr. Dan Kelting of the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute was presented at the second conference and then published in peer-reviewed journals.  It demonstrated that 86 percent of the sodium and chloride buildup in Adirondack Park watersheds can be directly attributed to current New York State road salting policies.

Highlights of the Sept. 16 conference:

  • Experts from the Adirondack Watershed Institute will review recent advances in the science and their studies of road runoff;
  • NYS DOT will present the results of two-year’s worth of testing alternative methods on three road systems;
  • An expert from the Carey Institute for Ecosystem Studies will discuss road salt’s environmental impacts;
  • The manager responsible for Colorado’s maintenance and operations will share how they moved away from road salt and what the implications of alternated deicers are;
  • A former New York State Assistant Attorney General who has taught the legal issues surrounding winter road maintenance will address the liabilities associated with reducing our dependence on salt; and,
  • Three breakout sessions will attempt to identify additional research needed, alternative scenarios for reducing salt use, and the possibilities or moving away from a ‘clear roads’ policy.

The event is free and open to all, but attendance will be limited to registered guests.  The conference, coffee breaks and lunch are being underwritten by the Adirondack Council and  Those who wish to attend can register at


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8 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Have they considered making it mandatory to use winter tires in some areas like the Adirondacks like they do in Quebec? I would not get caught dead w/o them in the winter (or maybe I would!).

    Seems like salt can make the road slipperier in some cases when it is real cold like we saw last winter. Give me a well plowed dry road (with a good set of snow tires) to one with those patches of melt here and there any day.

    As far as what they do in Colorado. That is a very different type of climate than we have in the Adirondacks I would take some caution in what we can learn from them. There they are mainly trying to keep interstates open they don’t even bother plowing most side roads in Denver it is a lot different than what we have here.

  2. John Jongen says:

    Let’s pay particular attention to potential fracking flowback brine on ADK roads. Some NY counties have used this toxic ‘free’ brine to salt their roads, and some NY counties have banned its use. PA frackers are eager to find outlets for this fracking byproduct, including in NY rivers, lakes and wetlands.

  3. Fast says:

    Lets go back to the old days of 90% Sand. Maybe it will slow travel times down a little but not much. This day in age many vehs are equipped w Anti lock brakes and stability control systems which should help your average or below average snow driver. Have to agree w Paul above, give me a plowed road w hard packed snow and some sand on top anyday over the slush that is created when salting the highway.

    • Paul says:

      I agree. In a colder climate like the Adirondacks getting rid of the “clear roads policy” or whatever it is might actually be a safer alternative. In a place like Colorado where they spray these other liquid alternatives they might work great in a climate like out west where the sun quickly warms the roads after a storm maybe not in the Adirondacks.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Put heading cables under the road surface to keep the roads warm. Cut trees far back from the roads so sun light helps melt the snow. Last resort. Ban cars and trucks in the winter and require everyone to get around on the roads by using snowmobiles.

  5. Paul says:

    Cargill (the folks that sell a lot of the salt) have also licensed this technology from Michigan Tech that could reduce salt use and accidents. But is is probably cost prohibitive.

  6. Charlie S says:

    After it snows every winter down here in the Capital region the salt trucks come out and boy do they like to use that stuff up.It turns a beautiful white landscape into an ugly,mushy dark mess and my first thoughts are always the soil,the water..this has got to be bad for those.It is! And cars! They should just make the body’s of cars out of fiberglass so that they wont get cancer after three bad winters.

    When the weatherman predicts accumulations of half an inch of snow in the Capital region the shopping centers,ie.. Walmart,K Mart etc,are the recipients of heavy doses of salt.They start salting hours before the snow even starts coming down.I suppose it’s about insurance…they don’t want to get sued perchance someone slips or falls.

    I was driving up a hill in Tunbridge,Vt last winter after a small accumulation of snow fell down. I met up with the town dude who was spreading sand.He told me they don’t use salt they use a coarse sand.He also told me the next town over uses a fine sand and that the course sand has more traction. They’re pretty smart over there in Vermont,though I know they do use sand in the more populated areas.

    Salt on Adirondack roads in the winter…it’s about time they brought this issue up.Whenever I’m up there in snow and I see salt spreaders out I’m always thinking “This cannot be good!” I’m always right! Well,most times I am.

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