Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kate Crowley
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Ice vs. salt

Going Nature's Way


January 16, 2020

As I reach for the salt shaker, I can hear my mom’s voice warning me not to put too much on my food. She was a nutritionist and knew that we all get more than enough sodium in today’s pre-prepared and processed foods. Nine in 10 Americans get way too much sodium every day. Sodium is used as a preservative, because bacteria, fungi, and other pathogenic organisms cannot exist in a salty environment. Why is it bad for us to consume too much salt? It can lead to serious conditions of high blood pressure, heart attacks, kidney disease, and strokes to name a few.

Sodium is the 6th most abundant element on earth. It can be combined with other elements and used in other ways, but sodium chloride is what we know and use as common salt. You might wonder where I’m going with this, but stick with me.

Right now, when we go out our doors, we are confronted with not just snow, but ice. I’m trying to figure out if there really are more days when sidewalks and driveways are coated with ice than when I was a kid or young adult. Falling down on the ice was not as much of a big deal as it is to these aging, brittle bones.

A changing climate will bring a change in our winter conditions, but this winter (so far) has been somewhat familiar with snowstorms and subzero temperatures. There was one day when the precipitation was a rain/snow mix and that certainly contributed to the ice cover that we currently have. We’ve only had a few days warm enough to melt the snow and create wet surfaces that freeze overnight.

To navigate this slippery world, we do a penguin sort of shuffle and pray that our balance is still dependable, but far too often, people fall and need medical care. I seem to remember that last winter was particularly bad that way and we still have at least two months (easily) of winter conditions. How do we deal with all of this ice? What do we use most often to get rid of it, or make it less slippery? Salt. And like our own bodies, salt or too much of it is bad for the environment, causing serious damage to our streams, rivers and lakes.

The most recent issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer has an excellent article regarding this topic and it provided me with lots of good information and the idea of sharing it with you in this column. You can find it online at It includes lots of suggestions of ways that we can reduce our contributions to sodium pollution.

Beside the salt we put on our own steps and sidewalks, we depend on the Department of Transportation to apply “road salt” so that we can safely drive from place to place. It turns out that the largest source of chloride in the environment comes from this practice­—42% to be exact. Agriculture fertilizers contribute 23% and household water softeners contribute more than 11% (through wastewater treatment plants).

It only takes one teaspoon of salt to pollute five gallons of water, and once it’s in a lake or stream, it’s not coming out. This salt has “impacted at least 221 river miles, 55 acres of wetlands, and 1400 acres of lakes” in Minnesota. Our state has taken a lead in combating this growing problem by producing a 217-page Draft Statewide Chloride Management Plan. It was posted online in June and though it doesn’t sound like easy reading, it is a “call to action” for all of us. Other states are watching Minnesota to see how we tackle this problem.

It is not surprising to learn that once a body of water becomes contaminated with salt, the life within begins to suffer. It is true that while fish, amphibians, plants, and other organisms require some chloride for “basic functions of life,” too much causes their cells to lose water and nutrients. Minnesotans pride themselves on our freshwater resources and fishing is the number 1 outdoor sport, contributing $4.2 billion to the economy! We rank 2nd nationally in resident fishing participation and are the 3rd most popular fishing destination in the nation; I couldn’t find out who was ahead of us.

If we want to protect our waters and our bodies in winter time, what alternatives do we have? Use less is a good start. According to the MVC article, “sprinkle sparsely” means leave spaces between the salt grains. On a 20 foot driveway or 10 squares of sidewalk, a coffee mug’s worth should do it. There are more options listed in the article. I would add another material that my husband learned about last year—chicken grit. It gives traction and stays in place.

Doing my research I came across this passage from the King James Bible of 16ll. I wondered where the phrase “salt of the earth” came from. According to Matthew 5:13, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.” This winter let us not tread on more salt then absolutely necessary.


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