Salt pollution is on the rise

Salt can pollute the ecosystem and our drinking water
Example of the corrosive damage of salt on a stair handrail
Example of the corrosive damage of salt on a stair handrail(Wisconsin Salt Wise)
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 3:25 PM EST
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UPPER MICHIGAN & WISCONSIN, Mich. (WLUC) - You may want to re-think how much salt you are using this winter. It can pollute the ecosystem and our drinking water.

Salt, you use it to clear roads, sidewalks, and stairs during the winter. A coalition called “Wisconsin Salt Wise” says rising salt pollution is a growing problem.

“No salt ever goes away. All the salt we bring into Wisconsin; bring onto our roads, in our water softeners, chloride-containing fertilizers on fields. All that salt goes into our water,” said Allison Madison, Wisconsin Salt Wise Sustainability & Development Coordinator.

Madison has partnered with groups like the Wisconsin DNR to provide education to the community. Wisconsin has designated this week “salt week.” It’s a time to raise awareness about risks to the ecosystem.

“Most people are drinking groundwater. So, we are literally salting the water we drink,” Madison said.

The Wisconsin DNR says when salt concentration surpasses 200 milligrams per liter, there is a serious concern. Florence and Marinette counties have not reached that threshold.

“It is well below that, but we are seeing a trend upward. That is where the concern comes from,” said Shannon Haydin, Wisconsin DNR Storm Water Section Chief.

In Michigan, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) says “five out of 31 monitored rivers around the state have increasing trends in chloride levels, two of which are in the U.P., Menominee, and Manistique. While the U.P. rivers have lower concentrations than streams in more developed areas, these increasing trends signal that chloride use is impacting quality across the state,” said Jay Parent, EGLE District Supervisor

Now you’re probably wondering how much salt you should use. Madison says that one 12-ounce mug full of salt can cover 10 sidewalk squares or a 20-foot driveway.

Some alternatives to salt include sand, birdseed, and charcoal. Another tip Haydin shared is don’t wait to shovel, exposing the pavement will help thin layers of ice melt faster.

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