The Effects of Road Salt on Forest and Lotic Ecosystems

A year-long experiment has shown the negative effects of road salt: now, it's time for legislative action.

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Eligibility: Please confirm you meet all the following criteria

  • You are aged between 14 - 18 as of August 1, 2020
  • You live in the United States or its territories
  • You are not employed by, or directly related (grand parents, parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • You have been working on this project for at least three months
  • You consent to us possibly featuring your work on social media
  • You confirm you have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Eligibility: Date of Birth

Dec 22 2003

What gender do you identify with?

  • Male

Help us stay in touch!

(603) 707-9378

Date You Started Your Project Started

June 26, 2019

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Road salt drastically affects both aquatic and land ecosystems, and yet the usage has not declined. In 2018, the United States used 20.3 million metric tons of road salt(USGS), resulting in a decline of biomass, chlorophyll, biodiversity, and thus overall plant health. Additionally, the toxicity of sodium chloride kills aquatic animals, seen through indicator species and the decline of aquatic populations.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

To shed light on the issue and to gain further insight, we completed an experiment to pinpoint the effects of road salt. This was done by automating data through auto-loggers, utilizing transects, and creating lab-yielding data points. This yielded significant data points(e.g a decrease in ecosystem productivity and the declination of root development), but the question, was where do we go from here? The answer to this is 'simply' trying to further publicize the issue. Countless other studies on this problem have been completed, and safe alternatives to road salt have been identified. All that's left then, is to get more people on board with fixing this issue. This will be done by publishing our findings wherever applicable, and making ourselves into an organization. Then, once the issue is well known, we can push for town and then state legislation. This will be completed by organizing meetings with the town board, and if needed, protests. By doing all of this, we will save plants and wildlife, protect cars from rusting, and enable people to push for an issue they believe in.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

STEM was a leading factor during the entire experiment. By utilizing STEM, we were able to gather necessary data on biological values. Additionally, plant identification, the measuring of the influx of road salt, and determining what was happening chemically when plants were exposed to road salt, enabled us to ascertain the negative effects of road salt. Further, technology allowed us to efficiently gather the biological values, by using devices such as a Vernier SpectroVis, data loggers, and a weather station. Engineering then allowed us to change bits and pieces of the technology to better suit our needs, such as creating a heating system to allow the rain gauge to measure snow. Finally, math was used to properly analyze the data.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Having lived in the Northeast for all of my life, I've always had to deal with road salt; however, I never questioned the unintentional implications it had. Starting in December of 2018 though, I began to notice that some plants looked sickly after having contact with salt. Then I started to question things, and I took to the internet to see the current research on road-salt. I found that there was a LOT of research, but nothing had been done about it. Questioning why nothing had been done, a partner and I decided to research the effects of road salt to see it for ourselves. We believed that by taking the initiative to invest in something that we were interested in, others would do the same. We wanted to be true changemakers.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

In order to do experimentation, we needed funding as our school lacked the necessary equipment. This was achieved by receiving a $5000 grant from the Marjot Foundation, $500 of which went directly to the school's science department. We then worked with the Foundation and our school's meteorology teacher to effectively experiment, before publishing our final report on the Marjot Foundation's website. The newly purchased equipment is being used in various classes, such as meteorology and ecology.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

As only a few towns are cutting back on road-salt use, it's apparent that only a few know or care about the issue; thus, by further publishing our research and becoming an official organization, we will be very unique. Additionally, there are organizations such as the Sierra Club which are against Road-Salt use, but that isn't their #1 area of concern. By creating our organization, we will be entirely dedicated to the substitution of road-salt, which will be the first organization in the nation to do so.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

In the last three months, we've presented our findings at the NHSEE, and published our final report. This seemed to gain some attention in our community, with local newspapers spreading the news. The hope is that this gave the issue additional exposure and more are willing to stand by it. We've also received first-hand attention from students throughout the school district, all interested in what we were doing. It seemed to me that they didn't realize that they could research/create something that they were interested in, nevermind the data we found. This could act as a segway to future projects.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

My hope and plan is to firstly create a 501(3)c organization. This would allow us to gain a following and have a 'face' for the push against road salt. This would also allow us to allocate funds for spreading the word and organizing events. Ideally, this would be completed by the end of July(as it takes 2-12 months to become a 501(3)c). Then, or during that process, we plan on reaching out to well-known organizations to see if they would be willing to partner with us. From there, we would work on getting our organization to be further known. This would be done by hosting forums, conventions, and going to schools throughout the nation to teach kids about road salt.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

By having our names and research published in the news, it seems that our classmates have realized that they can make a change. The most vivid example of this was when I was leaving cross country practice early to conduct research. I was stopped by everyone on the team, not because I was leaving, but out of curiosity and excitement. I ended up staying for nearly an hour to explain what exactly we were doing. The excited, and determined looks in their face showed the power of curiosity.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

I believe that by partnering with like-minded changemakers we will be able to promote the idea of substituting road-salt. Additionally, other changemakers would provide us with more opinions, allowing us to see from different perspectives.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

We would start by showing others the pictures and hard data that shows what road-salt is doing. We would show them that road salt is reducing biodiversity, plummeting chlorophyll levels, and reducing the productivity of ecosystems. Then, we would show them the safe alternatives(e.g. beet juice), and provide them with the data associated with that, which would include rebounds in environmental health. By showing people what's happening, their intuition and analytical minds will connect the rest.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Donations between $1k-$5k


Kathleen Pare: (603) 303-8704 Justin Pare (603) 303-8703 Adrien Deshaies:

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
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Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or General Motors, who was it?

The New Hampshire Science and Engineering Expo

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Antonio

Hey Christopher! Other than the ecosystem, salt also has potential to harm the roads and vehicles on the roads. I believe that to raise awareness these factors also need to be highlighted and considered. With some research you could work through the calculations and assign a cost value to society for the use of road salt (ecosystem, vehicle damage cost, and infrastructure cost). You might also have to compare the cost of alternatives. Icy roads can offer a lot of hazards and it would be important to verify that the alternatives keep drivers and pedestrians safe (or safer). With this evidence you could develop an even stronger case towards cutting back or eliminating salt use. In addition you might face opposition from salt companies (those who make a living from mining and selling salt for this use). I can see you are committed! What your research has revealed is incredible! Good luck!

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