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Untreated water goes directly into a stream. Photo: MN Pollution Control Agency, CC BY-NC 2.0
Last Week we wrote about the detriment that road salt can have on waterways, plants, and animals and how runoff is causing dead zones in lakes. It turns out that the story doesn’t stop there and all that salt is actually reacting with soil and water pipes to form toxic substances that can poison drinking water and harm the environment. The Revelator recently published an article examining a report published last month that found that not only is salinity increasing in many surface waters, but when you add salt to the environment it can mobilize heavy metals, nutrient pollution and other contaminants that are combining to create new “chemical cocktails” in rivers, streams, and reservoirs. These cocktails can be a danger to our drinking water, wildlife and riverine ecology. And they’ve already contributed to a public health crisis in at least one U.S. city.
It turns out that in Flint, MI while lead made headlines for poisoning people, salt was what made a bad situation worse. The Revelator reported that when the city switched sources of water to the highly polluted Flint River, the water had a much higher salinity because of runoff from road salts, which, without proper treatment, increased the corrosivity of the water.Gene Likens, a prominent ecologist and co-author of the study, explained that the “change in the chemistry of the water flowing through the pipes liberated lead from the pipes or lead-soldered connections.” Lead was the villain, but salt was its enabler.
This same process can cause other neurotoxins like manganese to leach from water pipes as well. Salt is entering our watersheds at increasing levels and the fact that we pave over much of the ground means that when it rains all that salt washes away instead of being absorbed into the ground. But even when salt does get absorbed into the ground it can liberate heavy metals and scientists are still trying to determine how this is affecting people and wildlife.
Why This Matters: Road salt is a serious problem not just for biodiversity but for human health impacts as well. Unfortunately, alternatives to keep roads frost-free haven’t proven to be as effective or cost-competitive and for snowy cities, being on a “low-salt diet” is proving to be a difficult task. Regardless, we have to start rethinking how we de-ice roads without salt especially because we don’t fully understand the impacts it’s having on the environment.
A recent study published in Conservation Letters found that over 500 dams in planning stages or already constructed are located within protected areas. As Yale E360 reported this week, this study is significant in that it is the first to measure how many dams are being built in protected areas, including in national parks, nature reserves, indigenous areas, and more.
Why This Matters: As the article in Conservation Letters lays out, these protected areas are an “essential tool” in the conservation of freshwater biodiversity.
by Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer Torrential rains have flooded “at least a quarter” of Bangladesh, Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik reported in the New York Times last week. According to data from the National Disaster Response Coordination Center, 4.7 million people have been affected by this deluge and over 50,000 people have been […]
As the “dog days” of summer are here, so is the threat of toxic algae in lakes and ponds across the U.S., according to reports from news outlets nationwide.The Boston Globe’s David Abel reported on how the 996 small lakes on Cape Cod that had provided a respite from saltwater are now warming so rapidly that they are being “transformed by climate change” that saps their oxygen, makes them dangerous for swimming by humans and pets, and harms wildlife.
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