Just when we thought West Chester Borough was cutting down on road salt waste and pollution

West NIelds St., 600 block, Feb. 15, 2021. See glove for scale.
And not just one pile, alas!

[Update 24 hours later: kudos to whoever — Public Works, individuals, businesses — shoveled up all that salt, as it now is gone and will not drain into Plum Run after all!]

All this sodium chloride is headed for Plum Run, unless someone shovels it up for future use. And this, ironically, at a time when the Borough is expending a lot of effort to prevent Plum Run’s banks from eroding and is financing rain gardens to reduce runoff and attendant chemicals from entering streams.

The same day, the chloride level in Plum Run at the SW corner of the Borough measured 310ppm.

According to Molly Hunt et al., “Chlorides in Fresh Water“:

“In Rhode Island, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has set acceptable chloride concentration exposure limits for freshwater organisms at 860 ppm to prevent acute (immediate) exposure effects and at 230 ppm to prevent chronic (long-term) exposure effects. For drinking water, DEM has set a maximum contaminant level of 250 ppm chloride, which is the point at which water starts to taste salty.”

So 310 ppm is not good. What’s the problem? According to Jeremy Hinsdale, “How Road Salt Harms the Environment“:

“Chloride is toxic to aquatic life, and even low concentrations can produce harmful effects in freshwater ecosystems. High chloride levels in water can inhibit aquatic species’ growth and reproduction, impact food sources, and disrupt osmoregulation in amphibians. Some 40 percent of urban streams in the U.S. already have chloride levels that exceed the safe guidelines for aquatic life.”

“Runoff containing road salt can also cause oxygen depletion in bodies of water. ‘If runoff containing salt goes into a freshwater lake or stream, it will tend to sink towards the bottom, creating a dense layer that can inhibit gas exchange with the overlying water,’ says Juhl. ‘This can lead to the development of low oxygen conditions that are detrimental to fish and other aquatic organisms.’”

Do you want to measure your own local stream’s chloride content ? See Isaak Walton League: Protect streams from salt! for how to get a free kit. Here’s the measurement from Plum Run (the chloride level is shown by the peak of the yellowish area in the sensor on the right of the photo):

Isaak Walton League: Protect streams from salt!

Winter Salt Watch

winter salt watch logo

Road salt (sodium chloride) is everywhere during winter months. It keeps us safe on roads and sidewalks, but it can also pose a threat to fish and wildlife as well as human health.

Fish and bugs that live in freshwater streams can’t survive in extra salty water. And many of us (more than 118 million Americans) depend on local streams for drinking water. Water treatment plants are not equipped to filter out the extra salt, so it can end up in your tap water and even corrode your pipes.

You can take action.

Request your FREE Salt Watch test kit….

(Sign up free for a kit to test a stream here. Salt in streams harms not only fish. but also other aquatic life… and humans!)

The problem with salt

from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Drinking water
— Salt has contaminated groundwater in some areas of the state; 75% of Minnesotans rely on groundwater for drinking water. Excess salt could affect the taste and healthfulness of drinking water. Twenty-seven percent of monitoring wells in the Twin Cities metro area’s shallow aquifers had chloride concentrations that exceeded EPA drinking water guidelines. Thirty percent of Twin Cities wells had chloride concentrations that exceeded the water quality standard.

Fish and aquatic bugs
— High amounts of chloride are toxic to fish, aquatic bugs, and amphibians. Chloride can negatively affect the fish and insect community structure, diversity and productivity, even at lower levels

Plants — Road salt splash can kill plants and trees along the roadside; plants that take up salty water through their roots can also suffer. Chloride in streams, lakes, and wetlands harms aquatic vegetation and can change the plant community structure.

Soil — Salt-laden soil can lose its ability to retain water and store nutrients and be more prone to erosion and sediment runoff (which also harms water quality).

Pets — Salt can sicken pets that consume it, lick it off their paws, or drink salty snow melt/runoff. It can also irritate their paw pads.

Wildlife — Some birds, like finches and house sparrows, can die from ingesting deicing salt. Some salt-sensitive species are particularly at risk.

Infrastructure — Chloride corrodes road surfaces and bridges and damages reinforcing rods, increasing maintenance and repair costs.

Read the full post at Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. See lots more info on road salt pollution in “Road salt is polluting our water. Here’s how we can fix it,”  MPR News, 12/7/17

The first photo was taken in West Chester, 3/4/19, with excess salt lying at the left side and center of the dry alley, but passing cars have scattered the salt away from the parts of the pavement where it could melt any snow that the tires of cars could actually come in contact with. The darker lines running along the alley are brine, which does not scatter to the edges and middle or into adjoining soil. though it may be worn down and distributed into the air.

salt-in-alley-34-19-e1552221110386.jpg

The second photo shows the same alley the same day. The blue-green spots on the fence contain road salt projected widely and forcibly from the salt-spreading truck;. You can also see salt crystals lying on the ground behind the rose bush and melted spots where they have landed in the snow which have to be removed by hand to prevent the salt from soaking into the ground and killing off the sorts of alleyside plantings that help keep the Borough beautiful.

Salt on fence