Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A salty solution


The salt pollution challenge can be daunting: years and years of salt use have already penetrated surface and groundwater and will stick around for years to come. And salt is still the No. 1 way of keeping winter roads safe.

But the small highway crew in Hague, on the western shores of Lake George has started to show that if you use less salt on the roads, less salt will show up in the water. After the Hague crew reduced its salt use by nearly 70% over the last five years, researchers with RPI’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute have found an average 4% annual reduction in chloride concentrations in Hague Brook. More study is needed but it’s a positive sign that Hague is reducing salt on the roads and in the waters.

Read more about what Hague has been up to and my recent visit to their garage. I also spoke with North Country Public Radio Adirondacks reporter Emily Russell this week about the latest on the state’s road salt reduction task force.

The road salt issue has also started to draw more national coverage in recent weeks after a scientific research review published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment highlighted the dire public health and environmental downsides of rampant salt use – which has tripled in the last 45 years.

Photo: Hague plow operator Tim Fiallo mixing a brine solution at the Hague garage. Photo by Zachary Matson

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

5 Responses

  1. nathan says:

    just plow and sand road like they did years ago in the adirondacks, people just need to learn to slow down and drive on the compacted sanded hard pack as we did for decades.

    • Mike says:

      Agree Nathan. With the advent of all the safety features on vehicles in the past 30 years it would seem to make sense just to go back to sand, used sparingly. Of course with the advent of all the safety features many drivers seem to feel invincible behind the wheel no matter what the road conditions are. Dilemma for sure.

  2. Bill says:

    Nathan, I totally agree, but that’s not the direction that our society has been heading for the last few decades, substituting chemicals for common sense.
    Many roads in Vermont are still treated without resorting to salt. Oh well…

  3. Dean Bianco says:

    I agree with reader Nathan. We already have had years of testing, limited salt-use areas in Lake Placid on Route 86. The state DOT has been advised in past years about the dangers of excessive road salt application to property, the environment, and people’s health. My question is why is it taking SO LONG to actually DO SOMETHING NOW, not years after the DOT promised they would adopt mitigation strategies such as implementing brine, changing the blade types on the spreader plows, and adjusting the mechanical spreaders into dispersing less salt and having the salt hit the road so as not to bounce off into the shoulders. To date, the DOT have done diddly squat. I suspect that the higher authorities in the DOT frankly do not care about this issue. Unfortunately, they are going to have to be FORCED by new LAWS to mitigate the rampant and excessive use of salt that is wholly unnecessary to still have safe roads.

    The Salt Reduction Task Force needs to get moving and get moving quickly to effect REAL change. No more grace periods for the DOT. They have had YEARS and YEARS of testing and they know damn well what the science tells us.


  4. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I don’t remember salting and not much of any plowing in Minot, North Dakota. We did not start seeing pavement again until the end of March.

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