Well the weather outside is frightful, and
the fire is so delightful, but at the risk of sounding spiteful, salting roads ain’t
rightful. That’s why this story I did write, full of alternatives that might pull us just
that much further in our environmental fight, fool! You’re not a fool. That’s just,
you know…I like rhyming. Welcome back to DNews. I’m Matt Lieberman.
Every winter, communities the world over prepare for months of icy roads and snowstorms. But
in the United States, we fight back against the cold and damp with a massive amount of
road salt. How much? Try 22 million tons. That’s roughly 137 pounds of salt per American
citizen. That’s crazy, right? We’ve been praying at the altar of road
salt since the 1940s and 50s, as highways changed the face of the nation. Suddenly,
truckers and commuters alike didn’t have days to wait for snow and ice to melt. Salt
was our solution to increase traction on roads and simultaneously melt the ice and snow on
them. The benefits are obvious: According to a 1992 study, salting roads reduces car
accidents during and after winter storms by a whopping 87%. That translates to potentially
thousands of lives saved. So why are we making a stink about something that works? Well our dependency has massive downsides.
Sodium chloride is corrosive. It eats through cars and trucks, bridges, even concrete. A
study in Utah estimates that Americans spend between $16 and $19 billion a year to repair
the damage. There’s got to be a cheaper solution, and one without the additional environmental
effects of road salt. When the salt melts, it steadily runs off into our water supplies,
increasing the salinity and chloride levels of lakes and rivers and killing wildlife.
A December 2014 study from the US Geological Survey found that 29% of urban streams exceeded
safe levels of chlorine for at least part of the year, and that the levels of chlorine
have risen in 89% of urban streams overall. Additionally, salt on the road attracts animals
like deer, moose, and elk, which poses constant risks of collision. Additionally, we’ve now used so much salt
on our roads that we’re now facing a salt shortage. What are we to do? Well, there are
alternatives out there, but unfortunately most of them still involve salt in some capacity.
For example, Wisconsin cities have taken to pre-soaking their roads with cheese brine
before storms. Now, there is still salt or a salt/sand mixture in the cheese brine, but
there is far less of it, and pre-salting the roads makes it difficult for ice and snow
to stick to them. Other communities have taken to using beet juice in conjunction with road
salt to reduce the amount of salt used, and others still use calcium chloride instead
of sodium chloride. Calcium chloride is less harmful to vegetation, but is more corrosive
to concrete and metal. However, the following options are the most
environmentally friendly: Sand and ashes both offer better traction and have low albedo,
which means that they absorb sunlight very easily, heating roads quickly to melt ice.
Kitty litter is also an option, providing excellent traction, though for a high price.
There’s also a product called Ecotraction, which is a volcanic material that provides
traction and is safe to the environment and to animals. So now we want to hear from you. What is your
solution to America’s road salt addiction?