Editorial: Enough road salt

Water is a precious resource that all life depends upon. We pollute it at our own risk.
The selectmen should move forward with resolve on their talk of reducing the use of road salt in the winter.
The town discussion began a year ago, after the selectmen listened to well-driller Henry Boyd.
“Every town truck is a killer,” Boyd said.
Salt put on roads in winter by the town ends up in groundwater, threatening the quality of the well water that many of Ridgefield’s single-family homes rely on.
“There is no natural purification for salt, when all that salt is in the ground,” Boyd said. “Everybody here has a well.”
First Selectman Rudy Marconi agreed it’s a problem.
“You look at the amount of salt that’s on state roads and local roads, that is being fed into our aquifers,” Marconi said. “Our aquifers are the filtration beds for all of our drainage. What we are doing is inevitably going to have a negative impact on the quality.”
The selectmen were talking again about road salt in the water table at their last meeting, June 19.
“The issue of salt and the amount of salt we’re using is of interest to everyone,” Marconi said.
There seemed to be broad agreement that Ridgefield, like many other towns, habitually puts too much salt on the roads in the winter.
The selectmen also agreed the practice will be difficult to stop because the driving public has come to expect what Marconi describes as “black roads” even when the landscape is white with ice and snow.
One problem is that there is no good substitute.
“State highways, they use magnesium chloride in addition to all the salt,” Marconi said. “... All aquatic life in the wetlands has been wiped out.”
The obvious alternative is to go back to putting sand on icy roads.
There will be unhappiness with this change.
Using salt rather than sand on roads promotes melting. Regular salt lowers the freezing point from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to about 24 or 26 degrees, according to Marconi, and the salt product the town has been using in recent years — with a molasses-based additive — lowers the freezing point to about 17 degrees.
Using road salt means fewer truck runs are needed when the road are icy. The town also saves money using straight salt because there’s no longer a need to clean up the sand in the spring.
Michael Dietz, the director of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources, told The Press last year that road salt is a real problem.
“There’s over 400 sites across the state that had levels of chloride above the state drinking water standard,” Dietz said.
If well water is contaminated, homeowners can get “reverse osmosis” filtration systems to clean their water, but the systems are expensive, Dietz said. And the groundwater remains polluted.
“Cutting down on the application is the only way to address this problem,” Dietz said of the salt. “There’s no way to get it out of the water after.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is stupid. It’s a classic case of the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that’s so common in human beings — and, regrettably, almost seems to be standard operating procedure on pollution problems. Immediate costs outweigh long-term consequences: today’s roads have less ice; tomorrow’s well water is polluted.
It may be difficult — perhaps impossible, in the short run — to find a good substitute product. Reducing the use of road salt may make more work for the highway department. Commuters will grumble, no doubt. There may even be a few more accidents.
But we’re systematically polluting our own water. That needs to stop.