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SUSTAINABILITY Gritting salt may harm environment

Outdoor Living
Gritting salt may harm environment

Rowan Gallagher

THE material being used by Mayo County Council to make driving conditions safe around the county could be damaging agricultural land.
The environmental impact of salting Mayo roads could have knock-on effects for peoples health, the environment and wildlife, a European Commission study has shown.
Salt contaminants in drinking water from the material spread on roads has never been an issue in Ireland, but in the last week Mayo County Council has been spreading the contaminant on Mayo roads in order to make them safe for motorists.
According to research from the European Commission damage to vegetation can occur up to 200m from roadways that are treated with de-icing salts.
Up to 50 per cent of plant species are sensitive to salt, and many of these have disappeared from a sample of Canadian roadsides as a direct result of road salting.
In countries such as Canada and Germany where there is prolonged use of salt, there have been reports of thousands of seed-eating birds being killed as they were not be able to distinguish between road-salt crystals and the mineral grit their diets require.
Behavioural abnormalities can occur in small bird species with ingestion of a single salt particle and death can occur with ingestion of two particles. Alternatives to road salt, however, are expensive, and can cost as much as 20 times more.
Mayo County Councillor Michael Kilcoyne said that there were issues with the salting blocking up gullies and suggested that better road construction was needed.
“The was to solve this is to have the roads built in a different way to avoid the buildup of water on the surface and then they wouldn’t need to be spreading as much salt,” Cllr Kilcoyne said.
Essential car parts could also be damaged by the increased use of salt during the winter period as the chloride in salt directly increases the conductivity of water which in turn increases the rate of rust in cars.
To salt roads in Mayo costs €25,000 a day Mayo County Council has confirmed. A spokesperson said they would impinge on the overall 2011 budget.
The Irish Government had secured 80,000 tonnes of salt to spread over the 20 per cent of Irish roads over the winter period but half of the salt has already been spread on Irish roads.