GLOUCESTER, Va. (WVEC) -- Every time snow sweeps through Hampton Roads, crews dump chemicals down to make it go away.
But what happens after these chemicals run into the Chesapeake Bay?
It's a question many people ask around this time of year, “What impact does melting snow and more specifically, salt used to treat the roads, have on the condition of the Bay?”
Dr. Carl Hershner at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester says the salinity or “saltiness” of the water is so high around the shore and at the mouth of the bay, snow and salt runoff from the road do not have a huge impact to the bay.
“We're actually encouraged by questions because it means people are concerned about the bay,” Hershner says. “It not a devastating sudden load to the bay.”
The biggest impact however, happens when the salt reaches fresh water.
"The biggest problem for the freshwater animals is that they aren't adapted to dealing with salt so it can be lethal to fish that live in streams and in upper parts of the river,” Hershner says.
Hershner says when runoff enters the ground, those chemicals ultimately come out into the river streams and the bay. The process can take anywhere from weeks to years. Runoff can increase the low levels of salt in fresh water over time.
“It's a long-term process,” Hershner says. “It's not something that one snow event or one treatment of roads is going to damage things.”
There are programs at VIMS to reduce the amount of toxins released in the bay. One way is by capturing the pollutants before it reaches the water.
“One of the benefits we have here in trying to preserve natural buffers for waters is as those pollutants enter the buffers, plants and microbes and bacteria can take them up, transform them and make them less impactful for the water,” Hershner says.