Turn­ing to beet juice and beer to ad­dress road salt dan­ger

Ripon Bulletin - - Nation -

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Look­ing to strike a bal­ance be­tween ice-free roads and clean wa­ter­ways, pub­lic works de­part­ments around the coun­try are work­ing to cut their salt use in win­ter by slather­ing the road­ways with beet juice, mo­lasses, and even beer waste to make them safer.

Rock salt for decades has pro­vided the cheap­est and most ef­fec­tive way to cut down on traf­fic ac­ci­dents and pedes­trian falls dur­ing win­ter storms. But re­searchers cite mount­ing ev­i­dence that those tons of sodium chlo­ride crys­tals — more than 20 mil­lion na­tion­wide each year — are in­creas­ing the salin­ity of hun­dreds of lakes, es­pe­cially in the North­east and Mid­west. That is putting every­thing from fish and frogs to mi­cro­scopic zoo­plank­ton at risk.

“There has been a sense of alarm on the im­pacts of road salt on or­gan­isms and ecosys­tems,” said Vic­to­ria Kelly, a road salt ex­pert at the Cary In­sti­tute of Ecosys­tem Stud­ies in New York. “We’ve seen in­creas­ing con­cen­tra­tions in river wa­ter, lakes, streams. Then, sci­en­tists started ask­ing the ques­tion: What is go­ing to hap­pen to the or­gan­isms liv­ing in fresh­wa­ter bod­ies and what will hap­pen to the fresh­wa­ter bod­ies as a whole?”

Be­lieved to be first used in the 1940s in New Hampshire, salt be­came the go-to de-ic­ing agent as cities ex­panded, high­ways were built and mo­torists came to ex­pect clear roads. More than a mil­lion truck­loads a year are de­ployed in ice-prone climes, most heav­ily in the North­east and Mid­west.

But many state and lo­cal agen­cies are seek­ing ways to re­duce salt use as its en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts are be­com­ing more ap­par­ent.

They have turned to high-tech equip­ment to spread salt more ef­fi­ciently, bet­ter weather fore­cast­ing to time their salt­ing, and liq­ue­fied or­ganic ad­di­tives that help salt stick to pave­ment. That re­duces salt use by pre­vent­ing it from wash­ing away im­me­di­ately.

Agen­cies from New Jersey to North Dakota are us­ing a mix­ture that in­cludes beet juice; New Hampshire and Maine use one with mo­lasses. High­way de­part­ments also have turned to beer waste, pickle brine and, in at least one Wisconsin county, cheese brine.

“Adding salt to the en­vi­ron­ment does have neg­a­tive im­pacts, but for those of us in the North­east, es­pe­cially in ru­ral states, where driv­ing is the pre­dom­i­nant way of get­ting around, we need mo­bil­ity,” said Jonathan Ru­bin, direc­tor of the Mar­garet Chase Smith Pol­icy Cen­ter and lead au­thor on a 2010 re­port on the cost and ben­e­fits of salt­ing Maine roads.

“In my opin­ion, we are al­ways go­ing to be us­ing some de­gree of road salt,” he said. “The ques­tion is, can we use less?”

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