Road salt is taking a toll on the environment - WNEM TV 5

Road salt is taking a toll on the environment

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After a relatively warm weekend in Flint Township, mother winter reminded us we still have several weeks left before spring comes.

Light snow is expected to fall for a few more hours. Snowfall totals are hitting 9 to 10 inches in some spots, leaving Genesee County drivers concerned about the roads.

“They really could have used more salt,” said Mark Root.

Root said he had to drive through some treacherous terrain this afternoon. He drove from his home in Gaines Township to a gas station in Swartz Creek to fill up his tank.

He said his livelihood depends on getting to places safely and quickly, so he just wants one thing.

“Clear roads, because I drive for a living,” Root said. “I really would like to see them take care of the highways and expressways a little better.”

The roads were not the only thing affected by the amount of snow. Multiple schools across Genesee County were closed or closed early.

Genesee County Central Dispatch said there were over 60 accidents reported across the county by the afternoon.

“Pretty crazy considering that yesterday was 40 degrees and now it’s 8 inches of snow,” said Matt Walker.

Walker said he was taken aback by the snow. He said his family is out running errands. While the weather makes it more difficult to get around, Walker said he still manages.

“After doing it for 30 years I’m pretty good at it,” Walker said.

Root said that be aware of other drivers is the most important tip.

“I make sure to pay attention to other drivers that’s the biggest thing,” Root said.

Salt is one of the key ingredients to keeping our roads clear and safe, but new research shows the substance may put our Great Lakes at risk.

Experts are seeing a rise in salt levels in lakes across the northeast and midwest.

The salt could hurt dozens of organisms living in the water.

But taking road salt out of the winter weather equation may be easier said than done.

"The reason that salt has stuck around for so long is because it's the most cost-effective approach to doing it," said John Daley, from Genesee County Road Commission.

Daly is sticking with salt, at least for the time being.

He said when snow and ice are an issue like they were today, salt, sand, and brine are the answer. 

"With those three products, we get a good coverage across the board," Daly said. "Especially with the weather conditions that we run into in Genesee County."

But is there a better way? Other communities across Mid-Michigan, like Frankenmuth, have added sugar beet juice to their road clearing regimen. 

Recently researchers have found mounting evidence that the amount of salt in our natural water system is rising, which could wreak havoc on our ecosystems.

Daly said he understands the concerns and is always looking for better options.

But Daly said there are some adverse effects to using alternative methods.

"Impact of that would be that the cost of winter operations is going to increase and that cost probably is going to come out of maintenance," Daly said. 

He said using another substance could cost the Genesee County upwards of $8.5 million dollars.

"You have to change the entire dispensing system, from where it's dispensing particulates to now dispensing a spray," Daly said. 

Daly adds that in the last decade the county has dramatically reduced the amount of salt the trucks put on the road.

He said salt is controlled by a smart system that only puts what's necessary, but says if something became available that was effective, better for the environment and affordable, he'd be willing to make a change.

"This just isn't something without consequences that you can just wake up tomorrow morning and say you're going to change it."

The Michigan Department of Transportation said sand is sometimes used to treat the roads when it's extremely cold.

It provides better traction but doesn't have any effect on the snow and ice.

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