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Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Oct 1;44(19):7376-82. doi: 10.1021/es101333u.

A fresh look at road salt: aquatic toxicity and water-quality impacts on local, regional, and national scales.

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  • 1US Geological Survey, Middleton, Wisconsin, USA. srcorsi@usgs.gov


A new perspective on the severity of aquatic toxicity impact of road salt was gained by a focused research effort directed at winter runoff periods. Dramatic impacts were observed on local, regional, and national scales. Locally, samples from 7 of 13 Milwaukee, Wisconsin area streams exhibited toxicity in Ceriodaphnia dubia and Pimephales promelas bioassays during road-salt runoff. Another Milwaukee stream was sampled from 1996 to 2008 with 72% of 37 samples exhibiting toxicity in chronic bioassays and 43% in acute bioassays. The maximum chloride concentration was 7730 mg/L. Regionally, in southeast Wisconsin, continuous specific conductance was monitored as a chloride surrogate in 11 watersheds with urban land use from 6.0 to 100%. Elevated specific conductance was observed between November and April at all sites, with continuing effects between May and October at sites with the highest specific conductance. Specific conductance was measured as high as 30,800 μS/cm (Cl = 11,200 mg/L). Chloride concentrations exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) acute (860 mg/L) and chronic (230 mg/L) water-quality criteria at 55 and 100% of monitored sites, respectively. Nationally, U.S. Geological Survey historical data were examined for 13 northern and 4 southern metropolitan areas. Chloride concentrations exceeded USEPA water-quality criteria at 55% (chronic) and 25% (acute) of the 168 monitoring locations in northern metropolitan areas from November to April. Only 16% (chronic) and 1% (acute) of sites exceeded criteria from May to October. At southern sites, very few samples exceeded chronic water-quality criteria, and no samples exceeded acute criteria.

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