Road Salt: Impacts to the Environment and Human Health

Science & Management Forum
Hosted: October 16, 2009

To promote safe winter driving conditions, deicers are applied to roadways throughout the Northeast. The most commonly used deicer is sodium chloride, otherwise known as road salt. In New York State alone, state and local governments apply 500,000 tons annually.

But this inexpensive deicer comes with hidden costs to both the environment and human health.

Over 125 attendees, including representatives from local highway departments, joined the Cary Institute and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Dutchess County for a management-based forum about the impact that road salt has on natural areas, drinking water supplies, and health conditions. A lively discussion followed about how municipalities can improve policy decisions in the future.

Topics & Speakers

Environmental Impacts

Stuart E. G. Findlay, Aquatic Ecologist, Cary Institute
Marie Brulè, Dutchess County Department of Health

Impacts on Human Health
Paul Feldman, M.D., Vassar Medical Center

The Economics of Alternatives
Charles Morris, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, University of Maine
William. H. Schlesinger, President, Cary Institute

Road Salt Forum Resources

Journal Articles

  • Albright, M. 2005. Changes in water quality in an urban stream following the use of organically-derived deicing products. Lake and Reservoir Management 21: 119-124.
  • Howard, K.W.F., and H. Maier. 2007 Road de-icing salt as a potential constraint on urban growth in the greater Toronto area, Canada. Contaminant Hydrology 91: 146-170.
  • Karraker, N.E., J.P. Gibbs, and J.R. Vonesh. 2008.Impacts of road deicing salt on the demography of vernal pool-breeding amphibians. Ecological Applications 18: 724-734.
  • Kaushal, S.S., P.M. Groffman, G.E. Likens, K.T. Belt, W.P. Stack, V.R. Kelly, L.E. Band and G.T. Fisher. 2005.Increased salinization of fresh water in the northeastern United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102: 13517-13520.
  • Kelly, V.R., G.M. Lovett, K.C. Weathers, S.E.G. Findlay, D.L. Strayer, D.J. Burns, and G.E. Likens. 2008. Long-term sodium chloride retention in a rural watershed: Legacy effects of road salt on streamwater concentrations. Environmental Science and Technology 42: 410-415.
  • Likens, G.E. and D.C. Buso. 2009. Salinization of Mirror Lake by road salt. Water, Air and Soil Pollution, in press.
  • Ramakrishna, D.M. and T. Viraraghavan. 2005.Environmental impact of chemical deicers - a review. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution 166: 49-63.
  • Vitaliano, D.F. 1992.An economic assessment of the social costs of highway salting and the efficiency of substituting a new deicing material. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 11: 397-418.

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