Sodium chloride - also known as rock salt - is used on a daily basis in winter to keep roads clear of ice and snow. While rock salt is a very effective way to keep roads safe during the winter, the chemical can also pose potential risks if not used correctly.
It is crucial to know when and how to use road salt during the winter. In the past, communities throughout the country have used strategies to reduce the use of this chemical - such as being more selective in how much they use on the roads.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), using less salt can be more effective while simultaneously reducing the amount of chemicals being dispersed onto the road. It is also important to remember that rock salt will not have an effect when surfaces are below 10 degrees.
So what effects can rock salt have on the community? In a 2005 report, the EPA claimed that using too much rock salt can contaminate drinking water supplies in the spring once snowmelt makes its way to lakes, ponds and other bodies of water. Not only does this pose a potential health risk to people, but contaminating local water supplies also puts the environment and wildlife at risk.
Sodium chloride can also corrode road surfaces and bridges, causing the need for more frequent repairs. This is another reason why the amount of salt used each winter should be reduced as much as possible.
Although there are some alternatives to rock salt, they are not recommended for use by the EPA. Sand can be used to keep roads safe by increasing traction on slippery road surfaces. However, studies have shown that sand loses its effectiveness on traction after as few as 10 passes. It also poses to potential to contaminate drinking water supplies, and can create dust that is harmful for people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
Rock salt can also be harmful to pets. After using rock salt on your driveway, try to keep dogs and cats away from the areas you covered. The chemical can be harmful to their paws, causing inflammation. Be sure to wipe off your pet’s paws after they are outside.
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