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Cities And Towns Looking For Alternatives To Road Salt

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Salt used on roads during winter has taken a toll on waterways in the United States, so authorities are now turning to alternatives such as beet juice, molasses, even beer and cheese waste to make roads safer.

For decades, salt has been dumped onto highways and sidewalks in order to provide a cheap and effective way to prevent traffic and pedestrian accidents during the winter season, Fox News reports.

But researchers say that evidence shows that these heaps of sodium chloride crystals are raising the salinity of hundreds of lakes across the country, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Over 20 million salt crystals are used on roads each year, jeopardizing everything from amphibians to marine life.

Victoria Kelly, a road salt expert at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, says,

There has been a sense of alarm on the impacts of road salt on organisms and ecosystems. We’ve seen increasing concentrations in river water, lakes, streams. Then, scientists started asking the question: What is going to happen to the organisms living in freshwater bodies and what will happen to the freshwater bodies as a whole?

Salt is believed to have been first used in the 1940s in New Hampshire, and quickly became the go-to agent to combat icy roads. As cities expanded and more highways were built, the need to keep roads safe meant over a million truckloads of salt deployed in ice-prone areas, heaviest in the Northeast and Midwest.

Now, many state and local governments are looking for ways to cut down on salt use as its environmental effects are showing. Instead, officials have turned to high-tech equipment to spread salt more efficiently, are using more accurate weather forecasting to time the salt spread, and liquefied organic additives to keep the salt on the concrete.

There are alternatives, as well. New Jersey to North Dakota are trying a mixture with beet juice, while New Hampshire and Maine are using molasses. Other highway departments have tried beer waste, pickle brine, and cheese brine.

But Caleb Dobbins, New Hampshire’s highway maintenance engineer, says that using salt won’t be going away soon. “Everybody is looking throughout the world,” he said. “Nobody is finding that silver bullet.”

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