Study: Road Salt Could Be Harming the Environment

Study: Road Salt Could Be Harming the Environment

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John Hollenhorst ReportingIs road-salt good for drivers but bad for the environment? That seems to be the case, according to a new scientific study. But in Utah, where salt is big business, officials are saying it's not a significant problem.

On a beautiful day like this, no one needs salt on the roads. But wait awhile, the weather will change and drivers will start demanding salt, even though it's known to harm plants and animals if there's too much of it.

A new study in several Eastern states by the University of Maryland found that wintertime road salt is having long-term effects. It's raised the salinity of numerous streams dramatically over the last few decades. In Utah, highway crews put down a whopping 200,000 tons of salt on the roads. It's about 250 pounds per lane per mile, every time there's a storm. But they say Eastern states use a lot more because officials fear political repercussions if they don't.

Rusty Bastian, Pres., Redmond Minerals: "Just to make sure they get the roads clean in areas back there, they will apply well over a thousand pounds per lane-mile in many applications just to make sure they have covered themselves and that the roads are clear. That doesn't happen here in Utah. So we don't have as much of a problem."

Lynn Bernhard, U.D.O.T. Winter Operations: "We do teach our crews to apply the right amount at the right place and to not waste their salt because we recognize that the land next to our highways is a public trust."

Redmond Minerals sells a different kind of salt, the red stuff, which comes from an underground mine near Richfield. They say it melts ice at lower temperatures, so it takes much less to do the job.

Utah has not had any thorough studies, but surveys of canyon streams on the Wasatch Front have shown salinity is low enough to meet drinking water standards.

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