Salts used for de-icing roads and sidewalks in northern climates can have a significant impact on water quality and vegetation. Sub-surface engineering systems, such as structural soil cells, can regulate water runoff and pollutants, and provide the necessary soil volume and irrigation to grow trees. However, the ability of such systems to manage de-icing salt contamination, and the impact of this contamination on the trees growing in them, have not been evaluated. We report on an field investigation of de-icing salt contamination in structural cells in two street-revitalization projects in Toronto, Canada, and the impact of this contamination on tree performance. We analyzed soil chemistry and collected tree attributes; these data were examined together to understand the effect of salinity on tree mortality rates and foliar condition. Data collected from continuous soil salinity loggers from April to June for one of the two sites were used to determine whether there was a long-term accumulation of salts in the soils. Results for both sites indicate that both sites displayed high salinity and alkalinity, with levels elevated beyond those suggested before those reported to cause negative tree effects. For one site, trees that were alive and trees that had a better foliar condition had significantly lower levels of soil salinity and alkalinity than other trees. High salinity and alkalinity in the soil were also associated with lower nutrient levels for both sites. Although tests for salinity accumulation in the soils of one site were negative, a longer monitoring of the soil conditions within the soil cells is warranted. Despite structural cells being increasingly utilized for their dual role in storm-water management and tree establishment, there may be a considerable trade-off between storm-water management and urban-forest function in northern climates where de-icing salt application continues to be commonplace.
Environmental Pollution – Elsevier
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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