It’s no secret that Americans love salt. But our uses for it extend well beyond the kitchen: It turns out we dump so much of the stuff on our roads that a lot of it ends up in our freshwater rivers and streams. Thanks again polar vortex.

See, sodium chloride’s not only our favorite rock to eat, it’s still the best way to deal with slick sidewalks and streets in the face of the dreaded wintry mix. Salt is cheaper and just works better at unsealing the bond between road and pavement than alternatives like calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, or potassium chloride. After getting pounded with storm after storm this winter, municipalities in the Northeast and Midwest had little freak-outs when they thought they wouldn’t be getting enough of the stuff (you know things are getting desperate when towns turn to cheese brine, beet juice, or, heaven forfend, pickle juice for alternatives, not to mention when 80 tons of salt crystals mysteriously “disappear”).

But the subtext behind the salt shortage is that we’ve used more of it this year than we normally do. And when our total last year came to 17 million tons — 109 pounds per person in the U.S. — well, that’s more than just a dash.