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Hold the salt: University uses brine to help reduce water pollution

University of Wisconsin Green Bay tries to reduce salt usage
Posted at 7:03 PM, Jan 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-10 20:03:04-05

GREEN BAY (NBC26) — Winter storm season is here and that means salt on the roads.

Salt can be good for melting ice but bad for our waterways. Researchers believe using less could help, so one area university is trying a salt alternative for the first time.

The new approach on UW-Green Bay's campus this year means they now spray brine on university roads and sidewalks before a snowstorm to prevent ice from forming.

Eddie Warczak, UWGB assistant director of facilities, said the brine, a salt-water solution, has far less salt than common winter rock salt.

But the university said it's about more than keeping waterways clean of salt, which harm fish and aquatic ecosystems.

"It's also about reducing the corrosion that salt has on our infrastructure. On our cars, making sure that it doesn't affect plant life and animal life," said Daniela Beall, UWGB sustainability coordinator.

A study published by the University of Wisconsin Madison revealed Lake Michigan's salinity level was about 1 to 2 milligrams of chloride (one of the components of salt) per liter of water in the 1800s. The study found the levels in 2021 were closer to 15 milligrams per liter.

Warczak said with brine UWGB has probably cut down on salt use anywhere from 25% to 30%.

But they know salt, on its own, can be effective.

"Salt is very good at melting ice. So, it prevents people from falling, it prevents injuries," Patricia Terry, environmental engineer and Resch School of Enginnering Chair, said when we caught her snowshoeing near campus Wednesday. "So there's a trade off between human health and the environment."

Warczak said the salt most people use to melt ice on roads and driveways is not effective when temperatures fall below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

She said if you're ditching salt and worried about slipping, cat litter can be a good alternative.

"It's a good non-toxic thing I can throw down on my driveway just to give me enough traction," she said.

Wisconsin Salt Wise, a coalition working to reduce salt pollution, says once salt is in the environment, it stays. And trying to remove it from the water is way more expensive than putting it there in the first place.

They say just one teaspoon of road salt can permanently pollute five gallons of fresh water.

In a news release, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said road salt can also impact pets by irritating their paws or other health concerns if they eat it.

Winter salt awareness week starts Jan. 22.