LEAD EDITORIAL: Campus Rock Salting Habits Need to Change

6 mins read
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Blank

In response to heavy snowfall this past winter, Drew University treated its campus with copious amounts of salt over walkways and parking lots. It is important to have some salt on pathways to prevent ice, eliminate continual shoveling and keep people safe while walking to class or driving on campus. However, the amount of salt used this past winter was unnecessary and also dangerous. 

According to the Office of New Jersey State Climatologist at Rutgers University, the Madison area received 14 inches of snowfall over the course of this winter. Snow and ice caused by winter weather can be a hazard as people slip, get stuck or suffer other snow-related issues. According to abc10, “approximately 1 million Americans are injured annually as a result of falling on ice and snow.” In response, salt has often been used to mitigate the situation, however, this too is problematic. 

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Blank

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states on their website that the use of Sodium Chloride salt – that which is scattered across campus and oftentimes called “rock salt” – has potential harmful environmental effects which can impact water supply, wildlife and properties. These effects could negatively impact our campus, as it could become fatal to local deer and other campus wildlife if they consume it. Likewise, it can damage plants near roadsides because of the high salt content of the water. This high salt content could also cause an increased rate of soil erosion. Decreasing the amount of salt used to reduce ice and snow on Drew’s roads, walkways and parking lots could go a long way toward protecting animal and plant life on campus both in the short- and long-term. 

Profuse use of salt as a snow and ice mitigation tactic could also be harmful for students, staff and faculty at Drew, as well as the greater Madison community. This is because, when salt dissolves into the snow and ice, it can also seep into groundwater, based on the EPA’s findings. The EPA explains that groundwater is often used for drinking purposes, so when we pour salt all over the roads and it melts, we end up drinking it. Heavy salting can also increase the rate of deterioration of both roads and buildings, which could become expensive to repair, according to the EPA

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Blank

On campus, current salting techniques have caused granules to get stuck on the outsides and in the crevases of community members’ shoes, which then enter buildings. Residences, academic buildings and dining areas are already seeing negative impacts as the salt crystals scratch and scrape at the floors, causing irreversible damage to tiles. Large amounts of granules on the ground have also become a slipping hazard both inside and outside of buildings. Despite the intent of the rock salt as a means of protecting the campus community, overuse of this product is proving to be dangerous to campus community members and buildings. 

Lessening the amount of salt used to treat campus roads and walkways could help reduce the danger to the campus and its community, in these areas and others. For example, the current method of salt use has left large piles of the substance in certain parts of campus, like outside of Riker Hall, even though it’s been weeks since the last heavy snow. By using a more appropriate amount of salt, this could become a non-issue next winter. 

In support of better protecting the campus community, its buildings and its animal and plant life, the university should also consider less harmful alternatives to Sodium Chloride salt. One option is Calcium Magnesium Acetate, which can be used in smaller amounts to cover larger areas due to its smaller granules, according to Koyuncu Salt. AccuWeather also suggests beet molasses, garlic salt, potato juice, pickle brine and coffee grounds as other natural alternatives to traditional salt. Although the article pitches these items for smaller scale use, they are still worthwhile alternatives for Drew University officials to consider in the interest of protecting the campus’ longevity and ecosystem. 

Salt was used in excess this past winter, resulting in consequences which can already be seen manifested in damage to campus buildings, walkways and even students’ shoes. This, paired with ample evidence in support of the negative effects of Sodium Chloride salt use as a method of keeping areas free of snow and ice, is reason enough to seriously consider a change in future winters.  In preparation for next year’s snowfall, Drew University should delegate time and resources to decreasing Sodium Chloride salt usage across campus and seeking out less harmful alternatives.

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