By Frank Waksmunski
The Times News, © 2003

March 15, 2003

Folks who have had to go on a low salt diet know that their food is just not the same. Even though it may not be good for us, we want the salt.

When Mother Nature does her winter work, our roads and sidewalks become a hazard to our health. We want the salt. The salt that is used on roadways is primarily sodium chloride, or table salt. If you’re on a low salt diet, you want the salt on your food, not in your water.

Salt can solve the ice problem, but what happens to the environment and our groundwater when we spread out tons and tons of salt?

Salting our roads creates a long, thin salt lick. This draws deer and other wildlife to the roads where they can get the salt that they want. The result can be auto accidents. When the ice and snow melt, the salty water goes on the move. Some of it flows into our creeks and rivers, where it can harm or kill sensitive macroinvertebrates. These creatures, which include stoneflies, mayflies and caddisflies, are an important part of the aquatic food chain. The rest of the salt seeps into the groundwater. In low concentrations, it will kill the microorganisms that are necessary for healthy soil. Salt can directly harm or kill trees and grasses by slowing down or stopping their roots from absorbing water.

We all know how salt can cause our car to rust away. This same salt can also cause our home plumbing to fail. From the well pump to the septic system, and everything in between that contacts water, corrosion can occur. Carbon County has pretty good water, but some of it is naturally corrosive. Add just a little more salt, and it’s much more corrosive, dissolving more metals from our pipes.

Road salt is not pure. It can contain ferrocyanide, mercury, selenium and other trace metals. Also, salt can cause the release of trace metals from soil, allowing them to enter our drinking water.

The real health hazard is from the heavy metals released into our drinking water or dissolved from our pipes. The best prevention for road salt contamination of our drinking water is proper well construction. The well should be drilled deep enough, have adequate casing and be properly grouted to prevent surface water from quickly running into it. We want water from deep in the ground, which has been cleansed by natural processes. A simple, inexpensive water test can determine if you or your plumbing is at risk.

Whether it’s going onto our roads or into our food, when we say, “Please Pass the Salt,” we should remember to use it in moderation.