Finding alternatives to road salt as water contamination in Lake Superior grows

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Credit: University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute Photos: Brett Groehler and June Breneman

DULUTH, Minn. (WLNS) – As the winter snow melts, the road salt and other chemicals used to treat icy roads are slowly making its way into lakes, rivers, and streams.

“We can’t continue to put salt in a freshwater environment like Lake Superior and expect it to stay the same,” said Chris Cheney, maintenance operations director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s First District, which covers the northeastern part of the state.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is teaming up with the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Natural Resources Research Institute to test the environmental effects of an alternative to road salt, called potassium acetate, the liquid de-icer often used on airport runways.

The research team is also working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to figure out where the most road salt is washing into Lake Superior’s tributaries, according to Star Tribune.

Road salt does not degrade or evaporate over time which caused scientists to warn that rising levels could threaten aquatics life and turn tap water salty.

Potassium acetate is biodegradable, does not corrode infrastructure, and works in colder temperatures than salt does, according to researchers.

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