Staff Opinion: Why so salty?

By Fiona O'Brien | May 2, 2019 8:07pm
Fiona O'Brien shares why salting in the winter can cause more harm than good.
Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Does anyone remember when Dance of the Decades was canceled because of the ‘snowpocalypse’ that was coming to Portland? Does anyone remember people buying soup and toilet paper out of Fred Meyer because of the snowstorm? And does anyone remember no snow that weekend? But does everyone remember the sidewalks being covered by pounds of salt which almost made it feel like there was snow?

Sodium chloride mixed with other toxic chemicals like sodium ferrocyanide is used routinely to melt snow and ice on streets. The salt lowers the melting point of the ice on the ground, preventing slippery accidents. 

I grew up in Denver, Colorado, where vicious snow storms were frequent, with full “whiteouts,” fast winds and freezing temperatures. Ice would solidify and persist overnight on sidewalks making it dangerously slippery. The day after storms, salting busy sidewalks and streets was necessary for the safety of many people. However, this was only because of the extremity of the snow storms and freezing temperatures. 

At the University of Portland this winter there were a few cases of extreme salting of the sidewalks and the roads. They were all in preparation and with hopes of the big storm coming. 

It never came. 

The safety of all students is important and the steps to ensure safety that the university and Physical Plant took should be acknowledged. However, they took far too many precautions and this type of salting is bad for the environment. 

Yes, the salt can leave residue marks on your new pair of shoes and maybe weaken the bottoms, or ruin your car tires. And yes, the salt can erode away at the tile floor in your house. But most importantly the salt causes detrimental environmental effects. 

Once it does its job, the salt doesn’t just disappear into the abyss. Salt from the roads goes into lakes and rivers and dilutes our water sources. Removing salt from water, in general, is a very hard process, however, when the salt reaches water sources, there is not just salt in it. It is full of other chemicals that are not healthy to drink and very hard to remove. 

According to Eurekalert a global source for science news, in Minnesota “They found that approximately 70 percent of the road salt being applied in the metro area is retained in our watershed.”

Just as the salt on the roads can ruin tile floors, and it also can erode away at the soil, making it extremely hard for the plant to grow, or continue growing.

According to the USDA Forest Service, “Salt can affect the foliage indirectly through root absorption or directly when salt spray settles on trees near high-speed roads. Damage can occur wherever chlorides (sodium, calcium, or magnesium) are applied for deicing in the winter.” 

Lastly, animals lick the salt off the streets and sidewalks. They don’t know what the salt is, so they try to eat it. The other chemicals in the salt can kill the animals, as well as too much salt in their diets.

I am in full support of students walking safely through campus if the grounds are icy, but for now let’s avoid the salt, UP. The effects on our precious world are too dangerous.