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WI Eyes Deicer Training to Curb Salt Pollution

Ground level closeup view of rock salt ice-melt on concrete wit
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Spring is almost here, but Wisconsin can't rule out the occasional snowstorm over the next few weeks, potentially resulting in more ice-melting products being used.

Amid environmental concerns, a proposed bill aims to encourage training for applicators.

This week, a state Senate committee heard testimony over a plan to create a voluntary de-icer certification program. The Department of Natural Resources would be tasked with establishing training for individual commercial applicators, who would learn methods for spreading snow- and ice-melting products designed to protect water quality.

Rep. Elijah Behnke, R-Oconto, is a lead sponsor on the Assembly side and noted the impact of salt in ending up waterways is becoming hard to ignore.

"Harmful effects have been noticed in our native aquatic organisms and our freshwater ecosystems," Behnke pointed out.

To ease concerns from the business community, the bill has language surrounding liability protections to shield applicators from lawsuits stemming from a slip-and-fall incident. Others who testified noted the plan can reduce salt from being spread around, while still protecting public safety. The measure has bipartisan support, as well as backing from environmental advocates.

Hilary Dugan, assistant professor of aquatic biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, testified in support of the bill. Speaking on her own behalf, she noted efforts to curb salt use go beyond protecting habitat in waterways.

"This hurts recreational activities, it hurts property values," Dugan explained. "Thinking about if your private groundwater well gets salty, your property value gets reduced, you're left without drinkable water."

Dugan added state and local snowplow operators have made strides in being more efficient with their application of road salt or switching to less-harmful products. She contended incentivizing private contractors can accelerate progress.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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