Road Salt

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COLUMBIA - Each winter tons of road salt are applied to roads to keep them safe, but environmentalists say the salt can impact water quality and the ecosystem.

The salt often runs from the road into lakes and streams.

"Removing the road salt from water is very difficult," said US Geological Services toxicologist Jeff Steevens. 

He said, if the salt levels in the water became too high, they could hypothetically effect the drinkability of the water.

One study suggests, by the year 2050, the salt in U.S. lakes will surpass what's healthy for animals, plants and microorganisms living in the water. It says the salt will begin effecting the taste of drinking water at a noticeable level. 

Columbia Public Works Engineering Manager Richard Stone said the city begins each winter season with 5,000 tons of road salt. Depending on snow fall and icy conditions, the city has to replenish the salt to keep roads clear for the entire winter.

To ease environmental concerns and use the most effective products available, the public works department has looked to alternatives. 

Stone said Columbia uses beet juice in addition to road salt. He said the beet juice has many benefits.

"It is better for the environment, a little bit more effective and stays on roads a little bit longer,” he said.

The beet juice is mixed with road salt and then applied to curbs, hills, bridges and intersections, Stone said.

Other cities use pickle juice, garlic salt and cheese brine to help clear their roads.

Steevens said it's important to look at alternatives, while considering their performance.

"What are the environmental risks associated with the road salt versus the risks of me wrecking my car because the roads are slippery," He said.