Winter is here and brought with it a blizzard named Jonas. Many in the Philadelphia region are still battling the snow, or what is left of it. Shovels and salt are flying off the shelves at local stores and many sore backs are feeling the heavy of the snow. The pristine pure whiteness of a winter wonderland has morphed into a greyish, eyesore of a mess, pushed around by snow plows and traffic.
We have all seen the massive mounds of plowed snow, piled high on the sides of the road, making side-streets impassable; or dump trucks relocating these mounds of snow to undisclosed locations. Does snow removal have an impact on the environment? This is a question many may have never considered, until now.
Snow can actually be considered a non-point source of pollution, since it contains many atmospheric contaminants and other unwanted impurities from roadways. One would not initially think that organic chemicals, heavy metals, sand would comprise plowed snow and complicate its disposal. This concern must be addressed by townships and municipalities when conducting snow removal activities.
Dumping snow into waterbodies, like streams and tributaries, can damage the existing ecosystems – think of it as suffocating the stuff living there and making it harder for them to survive. Sedimentation of sand and other small solid particles can result in eutrophication and increase the chances that body of water will over-fill (flood). But, it is not just sand and rocks that are being deposited; plowed snow can also contain road trash – cigarette butts, tire remnants, or engine oil – that are already on the road surface before snowfall.
Rock salt is often used to melt ice, which results from daytime melting and nighttime freezing. When this snow is dumped into a waterbody, freshwater aquatic life can suffer due to the introduction of these amounts of salt. Soil erosion can ensure, yielding poor vegetation reproduction and sustainability. The melted snow can also enter into drinking water supplies and might negatively affect the quality of the water. Application of rock salt can also present other hazards: animal paws can become cut or burnt after walking on the salt; children can ingest the salt and become ill; and, the corrosiveness of the salt can damage the integrity of roadways, driveways, and vehicles.
So, what can be done? Some states are trying to make their snow removal process more environmentally friendly by pre-treating ice/snow-prone roadways with a brine solution a or sodium chloride and calcium chloride mixture; application of either of these will reduce the amount of ice and snow that adheres to surfaces, and ultimately reducing the amount of rock salt needed after a snow event. Some states, like Massachusettes for example, are experimenting with using a beet juice and brine solution to pretreat roadways!On an individual level, people can purchase natural de-icing products made from other minerals that can serve to actually fertilize greenspaces they come into contact with. These products are labeled pet-safe and are non-toxic.
Mindfulness of how to manage snow removal and ice prevention can go a long way, without jeopardizing environmental health!