Environmental Laboratory

  • Why Roads Are Bad for the Environment

Why Roads Are Bad for the Environment

Nov 26 2015 Read 2816 Times

Living our lives without the hundreds of thousands of miles of roadways which criss-cross the United Kingdom is pretty much unthinkable these days – we rely so heavily upon the network for transportation in so many spheres of our lives, that roads seem like an essential facet of modern day life.

However, very few of us realise the damaging effects that such roads can have on our environment. With the world as a whole becoming more and more conscious of the human impact on our atmosphere and our planet, it’s important to understand how exactly roads are negatively affecting the environment.

The Problems

Before mankind began creating bizarre concoctions of asphalt and tarmac, Mother Nature had the perfect solution to dealing with the vast quantities of rain and storm water which fall upon the Earth every single day. Contaminants and pollutants were naturally filtered out from the water as it seeped down through layers of soil, stone and other obstacles, before entering streams and lakes in a purified form.

However, the advent of roads has thrown a spanner into the works. The run-off created by impervious road surfaces is laced with all sorts of harmful pollutants, meaning that the natural filtration performed by nature is overwhelmed or even prevented from happening in the first place. Among other unwanted additives, run-off can pick up:

  • Oil
  • Rubber
  • Metals
  • Rust
  • Chemical gases
  • Fertilisers
  • Pesticides

Then, when it reaches the earth, these toxins can work together to enhance soil erosion, damage vegetation and pollute bodies of water.

Different Issues Caused by Different Mediums

The three main types of road are dirt, gravel and asphalt/tarmac, each of which poses a different threat to the environment.

While it might seem logical to believe that dirt roads do not have an environmental impact, the air pollution they create through the production of dust mites should not be underestimated. Furthermore, the dust also serves to damage vegetation, erode soil and degrade underwater plant-life. Though dirt roads are generally less travelled than other types of road, the integration of local meteorological data with roadside air monitoring applications remains a priority.

Although gravel is more permeable than tarmac, it’s less porous than dirt and the bottom layers of gravel roads often end up so tightly packed that polluted water drains part of the way through it before becoming hopelessly trapped inside. This essentially renders the road useless in filtering and purifying other water.

Paved roads are by far the most commonplace throughout the UK and the western world and are impervious to storm water. This type of road creates more run-off than any other and facilitates the introduction of cadmium, zinc, rust and copper into bodies of water.

A Possible Solution

Creating porous pavements and roadways appears to be the way to go in order to combat this often overlooked problem. As well as more closely mimicking the behaviour of Mother Nature, environmentally-friendly asphalt can also conserve water and last for decades. There are a variety of innovative styles of creating the green substance, including introducing printer tone ink, algae or cooking oil into the mix.

Image Source: Henrik Johansson   

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