Salty sidewalks: Bad for the environment and our boots

By Sarah Stubbs
@sarahxstubbs

On Monday morning campus was covered with a blanket of fresh-fallen snow. The arch and shrubbery in front of Old Main glistened and glittered as the sun rose, creating a picturesque scene as I drove down Main Street to my early morning tutoring.

You could see Oilers bundled up with an extra layer or two to make their treks across campus a little more bearable. No one had to stomp the snow off their shoes when they entered any buildings, though, because for as much snow was on the ground there was even more salt on the sidewalks.

Rather than sloshing, sliding, or slipping along to class, small piles of the blue-ish salt and chemical mixture crunched under your feet with each step. Little blue puddles accumulated on the stairs inside every building.

I’m glad that I made it to class without falling. I am clumsy and we do need to put salt out for safety reasons, but judging from my observations and conversations with other students and faculty, there seems to be an excess amount of salt on the sidewalks.

Last year around this time I wrote a news article about UF’s physical plant and how they beat the weather to ensure that parking spots are cleared and students have safe pathways to classes. I learned a lot writing this article. I know that they have a small staff doing a ton of work and they are starting as early as 2 or 3 a.m. sometimes when conditions are extreme. They have strategic plans in place according to the level of snow emergency the city of Findlay is dealing with at the time. This determines how many groundskeepers will be called in to help plow or salt.

When I asked if there was any process for determining how much salt to put out, the groundskeepers told me that they really just use their best judgments.

Again, I am grateful that I can get to class without falling and bruising my tail bone (I know from experience that is not fun). But I find this excess salt problematic for three reasons: cost, environmental impact, and an extra headache for housekeeping.

This has not been a snowy winter so I suppose it is safe to assume that UF has quite the amount of salt stocked up. Just because it has not snowed much over the last couple of months does not mean they have to use it all at once. It is not free, and it does not expire, so the excess amount just looks like a poor allocation of resources to me.

More importantly, though, too much salt is horrible for the environment. Everyone knows that salt corrodes your car, but did you ever think that it has an effect on your drinking water, too? As the snow melts, sodium and chloride chemicals become a part of the runoff. It seeps into the groundwater and then into freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers.

For people who have salt-restrictive diets, too much sodium in the drinking water can be a health risk. Although according to an article by the Smithsonian, the impact of over-salting is much more dramatic for the ecological system overall, especially freshwater fish and plants, as well as other organisms that drink that freshwater.

The public safety benefits of salting the roads and sidewalks go without saying. And an overload of salt is not UF-specific occurrence. In fact, according to a Discovery Communications article, it is estimated that more than 22 million tons of salt are distributed on U.S. roads annually.

Extra salty sidewalks must be a trend in higher education, too. I have a friend who attends OSU and says the salt on her campus wore holes in her six-month-old pair of leather boots.

I can only hope that the physical plant tries to cut back a little for the sake of our environment and our leather boots.

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