- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) Virginia officials say they know little about the environmental effects of salt and other chemicals used to clean snowy roads, despite hundreds of studies done in the past 30 years.
"It happens very seldom that we get significant statewide snow," said Bill Hayden, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality spokesman.
The agency has gotten some help from the Arlington-based Salt Institute, which tells clients how to clear roads of ice and snow.
"We advise minimum use," said Dick Hanneman, company president. He also acknowledged that salt can harm the environment but said that happens only when it is used improperly.
Improper storage of salt, Mr. Hanneman said, is a much bigger problem than spreading it. Most cases of salt contaminating groundwater take place when piles are not covered and leach into the ground. As a result, many highway agencies have improved storage procedures during the past 20 years as concerns about runoff have increased.
According to a national Transportation Research Board report, 16 states reported complaints about road salt contaminating drinking water in the past 10 years, most of them coming from the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.
"In general, only wells or reservoirs near salt-treated highways or salt storage facilities are susceptible to salt infiltration," the report stated.
Tamim Younos, interim director of the Virginia Water Resources Research Center at Virginia Tech, said salt can also damage or kill vegetation along roads.
"It will affect the fish and other [organisms] in the streams," he said. "The impact on humans is minimum taste, probably."
Eric Hallerman, an associate professor of fishery science at Virginia Tech, said the effect of salt on fish depends on the amount. Direct runoff of high amounts of salt into small marshes and creeks can create a toxic environment for fish, he said.
"If there is a lot of salt, they will move from their environment if they are mobile," he said.
Gary Long, a Virginia Tech environmental chemistry professor, conducted an experiment on road salt last winter by testing the water in the school's duck pond before snow storm. He found that the pond contained about 11 parts of salt per million.
He repeated the test when nearby roads were salted, and the reading was 70 parts per million.
Toxicity to aquatic life begins at 20 parts per billion.
Tom Schueler of the Center For Watershed Protection in Ellicott City, Md., wrote an article on road salt recently in which he discussed the Chesapeake Bay.
He estimated that in the Bay region at least 2.5 million tons of salt are applied annually.
"No matter how you look at it, this is a lot of salt," he wrote.
He also said road salt contains such impurities as phosphorus, copper, nitrogen and cyanide, which is an anti-caking agent.
"Scientists have measured cyanide levels in urban streams ranging from 3 to 270 parts per billion for short periods of time as a result of road salting," Mr. Schueler wrote.
Chuck Epes, spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said, "There's no question that chemicals, salts, de-icers and sand … impact water quality."
But he acknowledged that the extent of the effect remains unclear.

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