Chemicals and bacteria that seep into snow are tracked into homes and cars during breakup and breakup-like periods
ANCHORAGE – If Nicole Churchill is going anywhere, she’ll be walking to her destination. Thanks to what she calls unkind or oblivious drivers, she said she ends many commutes soaked with brownish water that pools along roadsides during breakup periods.
“They splash water all over you,” Churchill said. “I know I was walking in the store the other day and I was soaking wet from head to toe.”
That dingy water can be dangerous, according to Anchorage Waterways Council Executive Director Cherie Northon.
“They’re chemical contaminants, there are bacterial and viral and all sorts of nasty things,” Northon said.
Beyond being an inconvenience, Northon said, getting splashed with that water can pose major health risks.
“There’s several different types of bacterias that we pull out in our water sampling and some of them are streptococcus, things that cause giardia,” Northon said.
Over the course of a winter, trash, oil, anti-freeze and other chemicals leaked from vehicles, such as de-icing agents that include everything from chloride to urine-based products, find their way into snow that melts into street slush.
“One of our biggest problems has to do with animal, pet waste, people not picking up after their pets,” Northon said. We figure there are probably 20 tons of animal waste a day deposited in Anchorage.”
Pet owner Evan Lomeli said he sees the animal waste left in the snow every time he takes his dogs to the dog park.
“Some owners are better than others at picking up after their dogs,” Lomeli said. “If you walk around now, especially with the thaw, all the leftover dog poop is beginning to poke out now.”
Northon said it comes from dogs, cats, beavers, geese, moose, you name it — traces of animal feces can be found just about everywhere, including in street slush.
The areas with the most contaminated water include parking lots and areas pets frequent to relieve themselves like trail heads or dog parks, she said.
Unfortunately, Northon said, chances are you’ve already tracked this stuff into your car or home.
“That’s where your pets are going out right after breakup and they’re running through that and coming back and tracking it into your car,” she said.
To reduce the risk of getting sick in the future, Northon suggests minding where kid shoes and pet paws travel.
Like Ashley Huhndrof does with her dog Haru.
“I wipe off his paws really well, and sometimes if it’s really gross … and muddy I get a wet wash cloth that’s warm,” Huhndrof said.
Northon suggests people take off any clothing that comes in contact with the sullied water, but for people like Churchill who commute on foot, that isn’t always an option.
“I can’t just run home, so basically I just have to deal with it for the rest of the day,” Churchill said. “It’s horrible.”
Churchill hopes drivers will be more mindful of those on foot before breakup season arrives in the spring.