with road salt.

Winter as we remember it has returned, and the crews are out in force in West Parry Sound plowing and salting the roads. And at the same time slowly killing Mother Earth.

We have all driven south on the 400 towards the Big Smoke in the Spring and noticed the brown evergreens lining the highway. Look back few more metres and everything is green. And if you pay attention you will notice that where trees are being replanted as a windbreak, they are being moved higher and further back. There is no obvious intention to reduce the use of road salt.

We worry about phosphates, and fluoride, and carbon dioxide, yet somehow never recognize the impact of using road salt. Bit by bit it’s silently killing the ground and lakes.

A Globe and Mail report from 2010 noted the impact that road salt was having on groundwater and streams. Researchers studying the area around Pickering found that the salt was polluting groundwater and during winter thaws causing some streams to have salinity levels approaching that of ocean waters. I’m sure the locals, not the humans, are not happy with this situation.

An article posted at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services website reviews the environmental, health and economic impact of of road salt. The conclusions are concerning, with road salt having a detrimental impact on water quality, human health, pets, wildlife, vegetation, soil and infrastructure.

Road salt is used liberally in the Town of Parry Sound. It’s a ‘cheap’ and effective way to keep roads and sidewalks from icing up. But like many things, what is cheap now, may come with a heavy future cost. We are actually seeing the impact of road salt on our property. Because of the way our street was developed there is very little roadway allowance on our side of the street. This results in the snow being pushed up onto our front lawn. But it’s not just snow that accumulates on our side of the street, it’s also sand and road salt. And with our front lawn sloping down from the street the salt ends up in our lawn. The results are obvious in the Spring and Summer, the grass struggles and the annual weeds take over.

It’s all a trade-off of one sort or another. More industry and transportation at the expense of climate change, whiter clothes at the expense of water quality, greener grass with fewer weeds at the expense of the insects and birds, and clear winter roads at the expense of soil, water and wildlife.

We are beginning to make the changes necessary to save the environment. Phosphates have largely been removed from detergents, perfluorohydrocarbons have been phased out as propellants, and insecticide and herbicide restrictions have cut back use by the home owner. And there seems to be global agreement on reducing, or at least stabilizing, greenhouse gas levels. Perhaps we can take a look at what we need to do to stop poisoning our land with salt. This won’t be an obvious problem for years to come, at which point there won’t be any simple solutions. An ounce of prevention when it comes to the environment can be priceless.

I Wonder Where It Ends Up? (Parry Sound in Overcast)