Hold the Salt

Known as the “first flush,” pollution from stormwater runoff is most concentrated during the initial surface runoff of a rain event. In winter months, it almost always includes road/rock salt which is of great concern for river life because it is toxic to fish, plants, and other aquatic life, and once it is in the water it persists.

Road salt is halite, which is the natural mined mineral form of sodium chloride. Many road salt or de-icing products contain additives, which can also be toxic, to prevent caking and ease delivery in equipment.

Before the first real snow falls, here are a few helpful tips for how to use and reduce the use of road salt:

  • Shovel first: salting before shoveling wastes salt.
  • Apply salt only where needed: around steps, the path to your car, and leading up to your household door.
  • More salt is not always better. A 12 oz. cup holds enough salt to spread across 500 square feet or about 80 feet of sidewalk.
  • When spreading salt, avoid clumps or piles; if salt is leftover after a snow event then you put too much down.
  • Salt takes longer to work the colder it gets. Switch to a salt blend formulated to work in colder temperatures below 15 degrees.
  • After a storm, sweep up the excess salt to use it again.
  • Tell your elected officials to use less too which saves tax payers money and helps the river too

New chloride standards were approved by the Illinois Pollution Control Board in 2015 with a five-year variance to allow for regional compliance. Unfortunately negotiations have not resulted in a final agreement so progressive action on the part of local government, landowners and corporations is essential. Lake County Illinois, home to the headwaters of the Chicago River, and the state of Minnesota are stand outs for implementing good practices that are environmentally friendly. Please make sure that you are too.