Save the Trees, Stop Mag Chloride Use
by Janet Smith
Apr 28, 2008 | 1795 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DUST OR TREES? – This blue spruce grows on Clinton St. in Ridgway. Some Ridgway residents see the denuded branches and red needles as signs of damage from the application of magnesium chloride to streets for dust control. (Photo by Christina Callicott)
DUST OR TREES? – This blue spruce grows on Clinton St. in Ridgway. Some Ridgway residents see the denuded branches and red needles as signs of damage from the application of magnesium chloride to streets for dust control. (Photo by Christina Callicott)

Our community goals could be saving the distressed trees in Ridgway and Ouray County by discontinuing the application of mag chloride for dust control.

We must first acknowledge that the spiraling brown needles on spruce trees next to roadsides, or lack of needles in a spiraling pattern, is “a direct result of salt-laden road dust settling on the needles resulting in dehydration and tissue death. The continued use of MagChloride on the town streets of Ridgway will cause further decline and death of spruce and most likely negatively affect other plant material adjacent to treated areas.” Quote from Curtis Swift, Ph.D., Area Extension Agent Horticulture, letter to Town of Ridgway dated Aug. 4, 2006.

As you drive in your car, please adjust your awareness to the health of the trees along roadsides versus trees farther away from application zones. Many trees may not be noticed because they have no needles. Others have already been removed and not replaced and missed only by a few.

As a minimum effort, distressed trees should not be exposed to continual application of the salt. Selective avoidance of chemical application near distressed trees could be easily accomplished with a bit of intent.

Second, we (I) could assume responsibility; adopt an attitude of stewardship for the health of this valuable asset. Consider replacing the application of dust control chemicals with application of fertilizers. I have heard that calcium sulfate can help readjust soil properties. This needs to be researched.

The city is under contract to start application of mag chloride in May. I suggest that this contract be renegotiated. Perhaps the chemical could be sold back to the manufacturer. The town should pay the financial contract obligation, but avoid application of the chemical to avoid continued obvious environmental damage while we reevaluate our options. The original intent for dust control was honorable, but we now have information that dishonors the environment in which we reside. How else will the cross section of industry, citizens and public officials modify their behavior? Just stop, reevaluate. It is a mediocre mindset, at best, to know this level of damage is occurring and not act and speak on the issue.

I have heard from many members of the community; many are disgusted with the environmental impacts and odor of mag chloride and also realize that the chemical has a short-term dust control benefit, but long term environmental cost. This voice must be heard over the voice of residents who complain about dust.

Ask yourself: was dust toxic before mag chloride? Remember DDT.

I chose to live in a desert climate and acceptance of some level of dust is a part of this decision. Many people enjoy the romantic image of a town that still has dirt streets. At what environmental cost do human health issues and annoyances of dusting your home become secondary to our soils/trees/water which provide us our sustenance and is essential for healthy ecosystems.

The adverse environmental impact of dust-control chemicals is for the most part not readily seen. Aquatic ecosystems, groundwater, increased road kill of wildlife, terrestrial vegetation, soil biota are also affected by the $2.3 billion road-salt industry. Some of the damage also results from application of salts for de-icing the roads. If you are one of the people who drives the city, through complaints about dust, to apply dust control chemicals, please contact me at 626-4322 ( so we can take a community tour.

The trees, if saved and more planted, will help reduce wind and dust. Better yet, the trees have contributed important structural elements that have allowed roads to be built in to Camp Bird Mine, Poudre Canyon, to Telluride, etc. The road infrastructure design when the tree roots are gone will probably look like the highway in Glenwood Canyon, but this will not be affordable. We will lose access soon due to our neglect of our ways. Dear CDOT, perhaps you should pay attention also to the forest rather than people complaining of dust. We will lose our ability to travel steep mountain roads because we did not appreciate the contribution the forest has made, continues to make, continues to degrade.

Speak your voice…love the planet.

– Planet Janet Smith, Ridgway

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