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Winter salt use negatively affects environment


Salt used to melt ice and snow can be detrimental to roadways, drinking water, and aquatic ecosystems. Environmentalists in New Hampshire are committing themselves  to reduce salt use. 

“Public safety is paramount,” Justin Pelletier wrote in the Salt Usage in Winter Operations Technical Note. Pelletier is an alumnus at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and majored in civil engineering. “New Hampshire’s winter maintenance goal is to obtain bare and dry pavements following a storm,” said Pelletier. 

According to Current Results, Durham averages 44.7 inches of snowfall per year. UNH has approximately 15,000 staff and students whose safety needs to be ensured  each winter season. 

“Over a million tons of salt a year are used in New Hampshire alone,” said Ted Diers, the administrator of the Watershed Management Bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES). “We use 30 to 50% more than we need.” 

The Winter Parking and Sidewalk Safety Manual used by UNH states that by using less product, it will decrease parking lot striping and reduce the amount of saline found in water bodies. 

Carolyn Dindorf, an environmental consultant, co-wrote the manual. “Nothing like [the manual] existed with an emphasis on reducing salt use,” she said. Dindorf dislikes the use of salt because of its effects on the environment. “We need to reduce the amount of salt used or we will continue to contaminate our waters.” 

In the manual, Dindorf said that when salts dissolve, they move downhill with rainwater to the nearest lake, river or pond. They will stay in the water cycle virtually forever. 

“It all ends up in our waterways eventually,” Diers said. “We know hundreds of wells that have been replaced over the years because of the salt.” 

Chris Avery, the salt reduction program coordinator for the state of New Hampshire is also working toward a reduction of salt use. “As of now there are about 49 bodies of water in the state that are considered impaired with chloride,” he said.  

In 2014, the NHDES created the Green SnowPro program which teaches snow and ice management how to reduce salt usage without sacrificing safety. Avery currently runs this program. 

“To become a GSP contractor you have to go through a full course with an exam,” Avery said. “We’re trying to make sure that everyone involved knows how to keep a community safe while supporting the environment.” 

According to the NHDES, New Hampshire is the only state that has passed legislation that grants liability relief against slip and fall cases for certified Green SnowPro. 

“I think students and community members should demand that salt usage be tracked and reported on,” Diers said. “I would love to see UNH become a leader in testing new technologies and salt alternatives.” 

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire’s The Winter Parking and Sidewalk Maintenance Manual: Demonstration of Incorrect Salt Storage- uncovered and placed in path of melting snow pile.

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