The environmental and financial consequences of road salt for NYC

Even before the first sign of snow is in the forecast, New York City has its stores of road salt stocked. And when the snow does start to fall, the city often spreads tens of thousands of tons of salt all over our road. 

But the use, and in some cases, overuse of road salt can come with some serious downsides, and with public and political pressure high when it comes to getting roads snow and ice-free, municipal agencies often operate with the attitude of ‘the more the better.’”

“For 80 years now, the common wisdom has been that when it snows you salt, that this is how you deal with winter snowstorms and ice,” said Jeremy Hinsdale, a journalist for The Earth Institute at Columbia University, where he has written about road salt and its use.

“We apply about 4 times more a mile than we used to even 40 years ago,” said Rick Relyea, a professor of biological sciences as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he and a team of researchers have spent the last six years studying what excessive salt can do to freshwater ecosystems. 

“It does everything from stunting the growth of fish to changing the sex of amphibians, killing some animals, it’s not only affecting lakes and rivers it’s affecting groundwater,” Relyea said.

There’s also the economic impact on roads and other infrastructure.

“It’s been estimated that salt corrosion costs as much as $5B annually in the United States,” Hinsdale said.

Experts say that reducing the amount of salt that is used can be done without impacting public safety, there simply needs to be the political will to do so. 

The Department of Sanitation told FOX 5 NY that this year, they have added brine trucks to their fleet which experts say are better at preventing snow and ice buildup, thus leading to less salt use overall. 

“DSNY has tested many de-icing products over the years, however for many products, the long-term environmental effects are unknown. We continue to regularly test new products that do not harm the environment and ensure the safety of the public,” Dina Montes, Press Secretary of the New York City Department of Sanitation said in a statement.   


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