Slippery winter roads likely in NL: Road salt contains harmful chemicals

Slippery winter roads likely in NL: Road salt contains harmful chemicals

This winter, the Netherlands may not be able to keep the roads from icing over, as a preliminary investigation found high levels of the chemical PFAS in the rock salt supply.

Why is PFAS so bad?

PFAS refers to a vast group of perfluorinated alkylated substances that have been widely used in industrial and consumer applications. PFOA is one of the chemicals belonging to the PFAS group. This chemical does not occur naturally and is often used to create a protective layer for products, for example, cardboard boxes, non-stick frying pans, clothes and rugs.

The European Union has concluded that PFOA is potentially carcinogenic. The chemical also has a negative effect on reproduction and is bioaccumulative. PFAS chemicals are bad news for the environment and can be found in soil, water, plants and wildlife. In July, new norms were established to stop PFAS from accumulating in the environment. This had a big effect on the construction industry, which could no longer transport contaminated soil or sludge. The PFAS issue has been tied in with the nitrogen emission crisis.

Thousands of kilos of salt needed

On average, 200.000 tonnes of road salt is distributed along Dutch roads in the winter. “If gritters can no longer constantly be on the road during frost, sleet and snow, then we have a problem”, says Ardin Bos, manager of De Nederlandse Zoutbank (DNZB), a road salt supplier in the Netherlands.

The first analysis of the salt at DNZB gave levels of PFAS which exceeded the limit. Currently, furthers tests are being done using more precise measuring methods. Most of the supply of road salt for the DNZB comes from rock salt from mining. This is imported from various European countries. Some of the salt is from cleaner sea salt and vacuum salt, but, according to Bos, there is not enough of that.

The government is not worried about possible high levels of PFAS in road salt, “That will be resolved. It is not a problem”, says Minister of Infrastructure Cora van Nieuwenhuizen. Rijkswaterstaat, responsible for Dutch motorways, is waiting on the results of the analysis of the road salt.

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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