MtA students are curbing salt use on sidewalks to save cash, the environment

Josh Kurek assigns students to real-life problem of reducing the amount of rock-salt runoff into fresh water

Josh Kurek is challenging his environmental studies students to think of ways to reduce salt use on Mount Allison University walkways and parking lots without hurting safety.  

Scientists have found freshwater lakes getting saltier each year because of runoff from salted roads. 

In Canada, the amount of rock salt used ranges from two to nearly five million tonnes a year, according to the Department of Environment and Climate Change. The estimate doesn't include salt used on sidewalks or by private homes and institutions. Mount Allison University, for example, spends $12,000 to $15,000 a year on rock salt, depending on the year. 

Kurek said he hopes his third and fourth-year students can come up with ways to maintain safe parking lots and pathways free from ice, while reducing the cost to the university and the environment. "In many lakes that are surrounded by urbanized areas, the levels in those fresh waters have increased over several decades," said Kurek. "There's no cost-effective, easy way to remove salt [from] fresh waters."

Kurek's class is working in tandem with a class taught by David Lieske to help identify areas of campus that are a concern and develop a plan to use less rock salt. Once slippery areas are determined, those spots may require more treatment than others.

With climate patterns changing, it's a topic that could become more pressing, Kurek said. "I think we can expect to see more of these freeze-thaw types of events, so that's going to require some creative thinking about how we ensure safe sidewalks and roadways."

Amber LeBlanc, a student in the class, is looking forward to taking a crack at reducing salt use. "The ultimate goal is to come up with something that's doable," she said. At the end of the term, students will have put together a plan to present to the university administration.

Full article: by Tori Weldon, CBC News

Joshua Kurek