Many areas of the country have seen record levels of snow fall this winter and from my window in Philadelphia, it doesn’t seem like an end is in our near future. These snow events require large amounts of rock salt to keep the roads and sidewalks safe and some cities are struggling to keep up with demand.
According to an article posted on Climate Progress, Baltimore has reported shortages of salt available for residential use; Wichita, Kansas has used about 70% of its salt supply and state officials in Pennsylvania said that “bad weather has created an unprecedented demand for road salt”.
To curb the need for rock salt, some states have found useful alternatives to keep roads free of ice. A product called Beet Heet, made with sugar beets and molasses is being used in about 175 municipalities in the Midwest. A similar product, Beet 55, is being used elsewhere and contains a mix of sugar beet juice and saline. In Wisconsin, cheese brine is being utilized due to the fact that it doesn’t freeze until it reaches 21 degrees F below zero. The state has an abundance of the substance; allowing Polk County to save $40,000 this year in rock salt costs and also saved the dairy farms the cost of brine disposal.
Another benefit of utilizing these alternative materials is that it decreases the burden rock salt has on the environment. The rock salt builds up in soil and on tree leaves and branches, leaving trees susceptible to root damage and dry out. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, five streams have been labeled as impaired due to rock salt runoff entering streams and rivers.
In 2000, Environment Canada completed a study of the effects of road salts (sodium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, and ferrocyanide salts) on the environment and concluded that they are toxic to the environment. Additionally, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) considers deicing salt as a possible pollutant.
Some would agree that the best solution would be an end to the snow. However, until then, it may benefit cities and states to consider the use of alternatives when deicing their streets.