Every year certain parts of the world get the wonderful experience of snow. While snow is beautiful, it can be dangerous especially on the roads. In order to keep the roads safe, we use brine and salt to melt the ice and snow off of the road. However, this comes with some side effects, one of which is the “masculising” of frogs. Masculising is the sex reversal of female frogs to male frogs during the early stages of development and can be detrimental to certain frog populations that are already facing extinction. According to researchers at Yale, the “naturally occurring chemicals in de-icing substances, including sodium chloride, is altering the sex of female frogs during development” and can even “reduce frog populations by as much as 10%.” (Wilks-Harper, 2016) In just this year, the UK will use over one million tons of road grit and they have an additional 383,000 tons in an emergency reserve. Sadly, this practice “places doubts on the sustainability of frog populations, that are already under immense pressures” as “a third of amphibian and frog species globally are threatened with extinction and in the UK, frog populations are increasingly depending on garden ponds for their habitat.” (Wilks-Harper, 2016) Although more research will need to be done in this topic, we can already see some consequences of our actions.
The main problem posed in this article is that our road gritting practices are changing the sex of frogs from female to male, leading to a larger population of male frogs and this in turn, is leading to a decrease in their population. This is an issue because frogs and other amphibians play an ever important role in our ecosystem including cutting down on disease carrying bugs like mosquitos and flies. So while, technically, the frogs are the ones being hurt, all of us all over the world will suffer if we see a decrease in our frog population. With our heavy reliance on these amphibians to get rid of mosquitos that carry diseases like Zika and yellow fever, we may see a spike in these diseases if their populations continue to decrease. This may lead to a heavier and worse strain on our healthcare systems due to new patients who have contracted these diseases and specifically, in America with the election of a new president who wants to dismantle our current healthcare system, we may see some troubles with insurance that we have never seen in past, including if these diseases will be covered.
So while this all seems bad, a lot of people are benefiting. First, the people who travel these roads that are being gritted are benefiting quite a bit. Without this gritting, the roads would be extremely slick and would lead to many accidents and the lack of a work force or basic economy. If people can’t get anywhere, they can’t spend their money, which would cause a depression every year. By this claim, businesses would also benefit from the de-icing of roads since people will be able to show up to work and customers will buy their products. Finally, if done correctly, the government will also benefit from these business being open. This brings in tax dollars and should counteract the amount of money that is spent on the brine and salt used on the roads.
Since this is such a new finding, nothing is really being done about the problem, but we are researching it. We want to figure out why these chemicals are having this effect on the frogs, what is causing it to happen, what are the larger consequences, and what we can do about it. However, we have known for a while that these chemicals that we use to deice the roads is not good for the environment. According to the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center, “chlorides resist break down in the environment and are corrosive to bridges, other metal structures, especially aluminum and to the metal parts of vehicles, especially underneath the car. Damage from salt corrosion costs the U.S. up to about $19 billion a year. Chloride also alters soil pH and dehydrates plants along roads, highways and parking lots. Increased salinity also threatens the health of drinking water supplies for humans and wildlife. Additionally, some compounds often used in conjunction with chlorides -such as certain metals and cyanide- worsen the negative impacts on surrounding ecosystems.” (Gaither & Philbrick, 2016) In order to combat all of these terrible consequences of deicing measures, researchers have already been trying to come up with alternative ways of deicing our roads including the use of tomato juice, sugar beet juice, pickle juice, and barley residue. While these have worked on small scales, researchers are unsure of how they will hold up to the toxic chemicals we currently use.
In conclusion, the deicing of roads in detrimental in many ways, including the sex reversal of female frogs to male frogs during the early stages of development. While this subject has not been researched in depth yet, we already know of its effects on the environment and therefore is just adding to the argument that something needs to be done. In order to try and fix the problem, researchers have already tried alternatives such as fruit and vegetable juices, but are unsure if they will work as well as these other chemicals.
Gaither, M., & Philbrick, C. (2016, November 28). How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Deicing Roads? Retrieved from PPRC: http://pprc.org/index.php/2015/p2-rapid/how-to-reduce-the-environmental-impact-of-deicing/