Press Release

Izaak Walton League Testifies in Philadelphia Council Hearing on Salt Pollution and Remedies

03/10/2022

Izaak Walton League Clean Water Director Samantha Briggs provided testimony at a hearing on salt pollution held by Philadelphia Councilmember Isaiah Thomas. 

Briggs' testimony states, in part, "While road salt can improve driving safety during icy conditions, the salt eventually washes into watersheds where it damages the quality of drinking water and harms aquatic life in freshwater streams and lakes. More than 100 million Americans depend on local streams for drinking water, but water treatment plants are not equipped to filter salt." 

She also provided guidelines for smarter applications of salt to reduce pollution while still improving road conditions during icy weather.

The full testimony is below. 

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, Committee of Streets and Services, Philadelphia, Pa.

Beets, Brine, and Salt , Virtual Hearing, March 10th, 2022

To whom it may concern:

The Izaak Walton League of America is a national member-based conservation organization with a mission to conserve, restore, and promote the sustainable use and enjoyment of our natural resources, including soil, air, woods, waters, and wildlife. The League has a longstanding history of advocating for clean water, most notably with the Save Our Streams program (created over 50 years ago). Over the past half century, Save Our Streams has evolved to meet the challenges of modern water quality problems, such as road salt pollution. In 2018, after a large salt spill outside of League headquarters in Maryland left the Muddy Branch stream with toxic levels of salt runoff, League Staff launched Salt Watch – a crowdsourced monitoring program that equips volunteers with free test strips to sample the waterways in their community for road salt (or chloride) pollution.

The Salt Watch data from each collection site is loaded into a national database which is available to researchers, the public, and policymakers. The Izaak Walton League hopes that robust data collection over successive years will help establish reliable baseline information and pinpoint pollution problems so local authorities can address road salt problems and adopt better practices. Last winter, volunteers from the Philadelphia metro region submitted over 275 test results. 44% of the results submitted from September to May yielded high readings (over 100ppm chloride), and over half of those high readings were at toxic levels (over 230ppm). There were more than 3 times as many results in the 2020-21 season as the previous year around Philadelphia. With more volunteers than ever keeping an eye on road salt pollution, there is more data to confirm that salt is a significant water pollution issue that can harm aquatic life and drinking water for years after the salt hits the road.

Ideally, freshwater lakes and streams should have low to no salt content. Levels above 100 parts per million (ppm) exceed naturally occurring concentrations of salt. According to the EPA, concentrations above 230 ppm are toxic to aquatic life with prolonged exposure. Excess salt in drinking water can be a problem for people with high blood pressure and other health conditions that require a low-sodium diet, since water filtration plants are not equipped to filter out excess salt. Even more alarming is the fact that excess salt is corrosive to infrastructure, which can leach lead and other heavy metals from pipes and can result in a public health impact similar to the Flint Water Crisis.

While road salt can improve driving safety during icy conditions, the salt eventually washes into watersheds where it damages the quality of drinking water and harms aquatic life in freshwater streams and lakes. More than 100 million Americans depend on local streams for drinking water, but water treatment plants are not equipped to filter salt.

The Izaak Walton League created Winter Salt Watch to give volunteers the tools to identify excess road salt in streams and other waterways. The program aims to ensure transportation safety while protecting clean water through best practices, including:

  • Tailoring salt-application strategies to the weather and the product being used. For example, certain road salts, such as sodium chloride, are only effective at ambient temperatures over 20 degrees. At lower temperatures, this product does not protect drivers and only exacerbates water pollution when weather gets warmer.
  • Calibrating salt spreaders on salt trucks and using road-temperature sensors. Calibrated salt spreaders and brining allow for a better understanding of how salt is being applied. Greater use of temperature sensors can dramatically reduce excess applications before predicted storms. If road temperatures are above freezing, pre-treatment might not be needed, or the amount of salt applied could be dramatically reduced.
  • Training and certification for snowplow drivers and contractors who maintain walkways, parking lots and service roads on private property. Testing by Salt Watch volunteers and the experience of state and local governments demonstrate that excessive salt application is common among private contractors, but simple training can quickly improve their practices.
  • Educating the public about how road salt works and what is an appropriate amount to apply. For example, one 12 one 12-ounce mug is enough rock salt for a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares. 

road salt do not end in the spring. Warm weather coupled with reduced streamflow during the summer months means chloride levels will be even more concentrated, putting stress on wildlife and drinking water treatment plants. It is vital to decrease road salt application in the winter months to conserve water resources, protect wildlife, and maintain safe drinking water for generations to come, all while still maintaining public safety.

Samantha Briggs

Clean Water Program Director

Izaak Walton League of America

sbriggs@iwla.org

www.saltwatch.org

For 100 years, the Izaak Walton League has fought for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conserving natural resources for future generations. Today, the League plays a unique role in supporting local community-based science and conservation and shaping national policy. See www.iwla.org.

    Media contact: Michael Reinemer, Communications Director, mreinemer@iwla.org 

    • Conservation