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Salt on the roads: Good for safety, bad for environment

By Sandy Bauers

Over the last 60 years - pretty much since regular use of sodium chloride on roads began - the annual average sodium concentration in the Delaware River has nearly tripled and chloride has increased fivefold, researchers have found. Because the department, like many others, can switch intakes and mix in water with lower salinity, the final product contains lower levels, said Chris Crockett, director of planning and research.

If current trends continue in the coming decades, however, experts say that aquatic life will suffer and water supplies could be threatened. Sodium is a concern for people with medical conditions such as hypertension.
"This cannot go on indefinitely. It is not sustainable," said Jonathan Husch, chair of Rider University's department of geological, environmental and marine sciences, which has been researching salt issues locally.
Unlike the pollutants that are typically removed by water-treatment plants, getting the salt out can require entirely different technologies such as reverse osmosis.
Eventually, said Crockett, governments may need to decide on which end of the process to spend precious public funds: more environmentally friendly deicers for the roads or new treatments for the water. Both cost more.
Officials - especially those in more northern areas - have been aware of the problems with salt for more than a decade. But it's only been in the last few years, with increased public focus on the environment, that significant innovations have emerged.

Highway crews in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have been spraying ahead of time with a salty brine solution. The liquid - look for the stripes down the lanes before a storm - stays on a bare road better than salt, it delays the formation of ice and, when salt is spread later, it speeds melting.

In 1940, an estimated 149,000 tons of rock salt were sold in the United States for highway use. Now, we're up to about 18 million tons in a bad winter.

Meanwhile, study after study has found that from the Great Lakes to mountain streams, salinity in water bodies has been rising. In isolated cases, municipal water wells have had to be shut down because of contamination from road salt.

Wetlands have been affected. Salt-tolerant species have become more common along highways with high salt use.
In 2009, a U.S. Geological Survey study found that 40 percent of streams in and around Northern U.S. cities underlain by certain kinds of aquifers had salt levels high enough to damage aquatic life.

Earlier this year, USGS researcher Steve Corsi and others collected water fleas and flathead minnows in streams around Milwaukee. They found that during winter deicing, water in more than half the streams sampled was toxic to the organisms or affected their growth and reproduction.
Eventually, salt can change not only a stream's plants and aquatic organisms, but its entire ecosystem, said Philadelphia's Crockett. "You go from things that are not tolerant of a salty environment to things that can handle that kind of shock."

Spreaders have been reengineered and recalibrated to reduce overshoot and to keep the salt from bouncing onto the shoulder.

In some cases, workers can clean the same amount of snow with half the salt that they once used.
Officials employ elaborate calculations to project nuances of temperature and precipitation as storms approach and intensify.

This year, PennDot is piloting a sophisticated storm-fighting computer system - with touch screens in the trucks - that helped Indiana reduce salt use by a third. Using radar, it forecasts road conditions and fine-tunes how much salt should be spread.

Manufacturers are coming out with new deicers, including one made from beet juice. Transportation officials in Maryland, New York, and Chicago are trying it.
Marketed under brand names such as GeoMelt and IceBite, it is less corrosive for bridges and cars - another issue surrounding salt. Also unlike salt, it doesn't cause potholes.

This, like many other salt "alternatives," is really just an additive. It helps a brine solution stay put and enhances the melting effect.

But some have complained that the beet juice stains and stinks like rotting vegetables. It has unwanted environmental effects, too. Bacteria that break down the organic chemical consume oxygen - and low oxygen levels are another problem in many urban streams.

And a Madison, Wis., study found that substituting the beet product for the salt brine it used in 2008-09 would have cost more than 10 times as much.

So good old road salt is still the cheapest thing going and the primary deicer. Although anything that melts in water will lower its freezing temperature, no other broadscale substitutes have taken hold.

Natick approves zoning change for clean energy businesses

This is an article from the Metro West Daily News about Natick approving changes to its zoning codes.

Link to article

As part of the Green Communities Act, we are advocating for Arlington to adopt the zoning stretch codes.  Marc Breslow will be presenting to the Arlington Board of Selectmen on Dec. 14th.

Stay tuned for more details.

 

Scott

New Links to East Arlington Liveable Streets website and rss feed have been added to the site.

I've added a link to their website in the "Links" section of our site under "Town of Arlington Websites".

I've also added a link to their rss feed in the "newsfeeds" section of the website" under the "Other Local Organizations" category.

We should do the same for other local related organizations as well.

Scott

At our last SA meeting there were quite a few stories about the uselessness of the NSTAR energy audits.  I had one done about a year ago and was told that my house was pretty tight.  I was skeptical because it seemed unlikely that the previous owner had done much to update the insulation and seal leaks and I was really ezpecting to be told that there were lots of things I could do to tighten things up.  When Jeremy Marin from the A-HEET program came over to do an audit to evaluate my house to see if it was a good fit, I found out just how bad the NSTAR audit really was.

Jeremy spent the better part of 2 hours looking at both the exterior and interior problems and found that there were lots of leaks and things that needed to be addressed.  The basement had lots of issues including gaps around the windows and especially around the foundation where it meets the first floor.  There were gaps around the water spickets that had never been filled with caulk and lots of places where cold air could get up to the first floor living space.  The forced hot air ducts had lots of leakage at the joints between sections and the hot water pipes weren't insulated either.

Jeremy thought the house was a good project for A-HEET and scheduled a blower door test.  This revealed lots of additional opportunities to do air sealing on the first and second floors of the living space.   One big source of cold air is the crawl space on the second floor.  In addition to needing more insulation, there was no insulation under the plywood floor in the crawlspace and there was a big hole that openned directly into the roof allowing cold air to get into the crawlspace and then into the living space.

We're making plans to schedule the A-HEET event and I will be posting updates here to document what was done and how much improvement we are able to make.

UPDATE - 1-7-2010:

Jeremy arrange for a blower door test and it revealed lots of leaks that could be plugged.  It took less than an hour to go through the house and identify all of the leaks.  It is amazing how much different this was from the NSTAR energy audit.  This really highlights how important it is to get a "real" audit complete with the blower door test.

The date has been set - Saturday, January 16th from 9am - 1pm. The materials are in the process of being purchased and collected.  Jeremy will be doing some prep work in the crawl spaces a few days before the actual event.

UPDATE - 1-13-2010..

We're getting close now.  Jeremy came over this morning to do some prep work in the crawl spaces.  We decided that the insulation that was in the crawl space was adequate for now.  I will wait until the spring and add some rigid foam insulation on the wall to the living space at that point.  There was also some dampness that I'm going to look into (hopefully not a big roofing job) and also look into having some isonene blown into the space between the floor of the crawlspace and the ceiling to the living room.

All the materials have been purchased and I'm now preparing to get the food for the event lined up.

In order to get at the crawl apace I had to remove all of the boxes and bags that were in storage there which created the perfect opportunity to toss a bunch of old stuff!  It's amazing how much stuff gets accumulated over the years.

UPDATE - Jan.22nd, 2010

The event was very successful.  31 volunteers showed up between 8 and 9am.  They broke into teams and attacked all of the items that Jeremy had identified during the walk through and blower-door test.  A team headed for the basement to tackle the leaky windows and doors, filling the gap around my foundation, wrapping the heating ducts, caulking the holes around pipes and the chimney.   Another team headed up to the second floor to attack the crawlspace to add insultaion and to seal all of the doors to the crawl and closet spaces.  Another team went to work putting gaskets behind all of the outlets and caulking around the bathroom vent.  After 4 hours of work the moment of truth came - the final blower-door test.  The baseline from the first test was 3100 CFM.  After all the work was done the result was 2160, a reduction of 940 CFM or about 30%.

You can read more about the event and about A-HEET in an article posted by Bob Sprague on YourArlington.Com.

All,

I purchased a new tool for creating templates and had to try it out on our website.  I built the new template around our logo but wanted to crate a template that would be lighter in feel and add a dropdown top menu.  I hope you like the new look and feel.  I'll be making some adjustments to the menus and organization of things.

Scott

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