Jacob Fox

Jacob Fox ... owns Closed Loop Systems

Town of Geneva Climate Smart Coordinator Jacob Fox answers your questions about recycling, composting, lawn care, etc.

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Today’s question: Why not use more road salt?

In my work with the Town of Geneva, we look at a variety of different topics ranging from waste management to stormwater to public bike trails. One topic that we have been discussing recently is our use of road salt. The road salt discussion is nuanced, as you can imagine, because you have to balance people’s safety with the impact of road salt on our soil and our lake.

Our town committee recently hosted a speaker — Phil Sexton of WIT Advisers, a sustainability advisory firm. He works with communities like ours on winter road management. What we learned from the discussion is that there are many ways to decrease road salt usage, provide even better service, and actually save money. This usually requires a holistic approach where you make incremental changes that add up over time.

Unfortunately, like many of our environmental problems, we are down a road of “why not use more?” This is often an approach that often has good intentions, improving road safety, but sometimes “more” doesn’t mean “safer.”

Too much salt causes fish kills in freshwater lakes, corrosion and rusting to the built environment, harms the soil, and depletes a non-renewable resource. Currently salt extraction is putting Seneca and Cayuga lakes at risk of collapsing. Do a quick Google search of the salt mine collapse in Retsof, N.Y. in 1999. Not only is our use of road salt damaging our environment, but the process of extracting it also can be catastrophic.

I sure wouldn’t want Seneca and Cayuga lakes to be destroyed because too many people thought it was a good idea to salt all the roads so much that you can’t even see the pavement.

This “why not use more” phenomenon applies to pesticides, road salts, fossil fuels, and many more of the things we use that cause environmental problems. We are all in this together when it comes to clean air, clean water, and clean soil.

How do we understand the usage of things that poison each other and our future? I don’t expect to answer that question today or ever, but I want to address the over-use of harmful products. We have been given an incredible privilege in America that we can go to stores and buy things that can poison us and everyone around us. Because of this we need to consider the downsides of using too much.

Too often we say “add a little extra, what is the worst that can happen?” First of all I encourage everyone to read the labels on the products you buy; usually there is a warning label followed by a recommenced dosage or application rate. This applies to things such chemical laundry detergents all the way to road salts. Usually the negative environmental impacts often are coupled with breakdown of your property where you use the materials. We use tons of road salt and then complain about cars rusting out and a mess in the house.

I encourage everyone reading this to think about the impact of using too much and consider the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you don’t want to be poisoned by your neighbor, you should probably start by not poisoning them.

Jacob Fox is a Geneva city resident. He works with the Town of Geneva as a Climate Smart Coordinator, to help the town reduce waste, improve stormwater infrastructure, reduce energy usage, and more “climate smart topics.” He also is CEO of Closed Loop Systems LLC, which will operate the City of Geneva Resource Recovery Park. Closed Loop Systems, based in Geneva, designs and operates facilities for municipal, agricultural, industrial, and institutional clients. His Climate Smart column runs the third Saturday of every month. With a question or topic for Fox, contact him at foxjacob@me.com.

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