Each year Canadians apply over 7 million tonnes of de-icing salts to roads and other paved surfaces. While the use of road salt is critical for reducing vehicle accidents and saving lives, it can have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems and the services they provide. Salt applied to roads eventually moves into lakes and streams, moving quickly through run-off and storm sewers or slowly moving through soil and groundwater. As a result, salinity in lakes and streams near urban centres and roadways has been steadily increasing through time. Salt is known to be toxic to organisms so Canada has water quality guidelines to protect aquatic life. However, our research, in collaboration with scientists from Canada, USA, and Europe, has found that current water quality guidelines may not be adequate to protect aquatic organisms in many lakes. Our current research is focused on understanding regional differences in toxicity and testing alternatives to rock salt.
Dr. Shelley Arnott is a Professor in the Biology Department at Queen’s University. She has published over 80 scientific papers on her research, which focuses on understanding how aquatic communities respond to environmental change, including the spread of invasive species, climate change, nutrient addition, and pollutants. Her lab uses a variety of research approaches including lab experiments, field mesocosm experiments, and lake surveys. Most of her work focuses on zooplankton communities in lakes in the Kingston region and in Muskoka-Haliburton, and she collaborates with international scientists as well as scientists from provincial ministries.