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Resolutions for 2018 — use less salt on sidewalks, do more dancing: Susannah Gal

Posted 1/24/18

I hope you have enjoyed the start of your year. It’s a new year, one filled with promise and opportunities. It’s a new page in each person’s book of our time on Earth.

I …

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Resolutions for 2018 — use less salt on sidewalks, do more dancing: Susannah Gal


I hope you have enjoyed the start of your year. It’s a new year, one filled with promise and opportunities. It’s a new page in each person’s book of our time on Earth.

I remember one of our daughters loving to get new notebooks for the start of school in part so she could smell the new paper. I think it also reflected a sense of possibilities — some might think of as endless — for the beginning of a new chapter or direction one could take.

When we lived in Basel, Switzerland, they had this lovely tradition on New Year’s Eve. People would go to the plaza in front of the cathedral and listen to the largest bell of the cathedral tolling out the old year in low tones. Then at midnight, the smaller, higher toned bells would ring out as a sign of the start of something new.

People around the square would hear these bells and wish everyone a good “rutsch” or “slide” into the year. We also would take pieces of paper with our bad memories of the year and burn them just at midnight in an effort to remove those things we didn’t want to carry into the New Year. That’s a great metaphor for letting things go and moving on with one’s life. It’s not always easy to do with some things.

What kind of New Year’s resolutions have you made for 2018? As many of you know, I do a lot of walking around the neighborhood for my exercise in the morning. While the weather recently often hasn’t cooperated to make it fun to walk outside, I’ve still been able to do it. Sometimes the snow and ice have made that walk a lot more treacherous than I’d like it to be. I do appreciate when people shovel their sidewalks or put out something to melt the ice on the pavement in front of their houses.

I do have one comment. Please don’t overdo the salt. I’ve seen lots of extra salt on streets and walkways long after the snow and ice are melted. That extra salt can wash into the waterways and grass beside the sidewalk the next time it rains and that can hurt the plants and water life.

Salt is an attractor of moisture. You know this probably because you’ve become thirsty after eating lots of salty food such as potato chips or French fries.

When the salt is sitting outside of plants, it actually can cause the water inside the plants to be sucked out to try to balance the concentration (or saltiness) inside and out.

And what can that do to the plants on the edge of your sidewalk if the water gets sucked out of them? They die. That’s why you might see a strip of dead plants along highways or sidewalks.

There are other effects of road salt. Joel Snodgrass, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, told radio station WTOP: “Road salt ... doesn’t disappear. It actually goes into our groundwater.”

Susan Miller, the public affairs manager for Fairfax Water in Virginia, told wateronline.com: “The use of road salt can cause elevated sodium and chloride levels in sources of drinking water. This can lead to taste and odor challenges for water suppliers and can be an issue for individuals restricted to a low-sodium diet.”

So what are some options if you want to reduce the negative effects of road salt? Alternative salts are quite expensive and have other issues. Liquid salt or brine is suggested by some as their application is easier to control. I’ve also seen some communities use sand or ash to provide something to add grit for better gripping of the pavement. 

Also the dark color of ash can absorb sunlight and melt ice or snow. In any case, it’s good for us to consider the widespread environmental costs of overuse of road salt by using only what we need and sweeping up any extra after the ice is all gone.

Another alternative for exercise that I’ve used is dancing as some of you know. As I’ve mentioned previously in my column, I do a form of dance that is a cross between squaredancing and English court dancing contra dancing. We do it usually a couple of times a month.

The best thing is, starting this week, we’ll be doing this type of dancing in Middletown. This time it won’t be in our house; it’s at The Events Place at 11 S. Union St., from 8 to 11 p.m. this Friday, Jan. 26.

All the dances will be taught and there will be live music. If you come at 7:30 p.m., you’ll get a chance to learn some of the basic steps like do-si-do and ladies chain before the real dance gets started.

Come check out this wonderful community building activity.

It’s also a great way to get some exercise to satisfy your New Year’s resolutions.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.