Ag­gre­gates can be abra­sive

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Ma­honey

Even­tu­ally, when­ever the snow­storms fi­nally do sub­side, many of us will be forced to deal with abra­sives. We’re not talk­ing about crusty char­ac­ters here. We’re delv­ing into road abra­sives, those vi­tal yet vex­ing el­e­ments that are poured onto our roads to en­sure we don’t all end up in the ditch.

Of course, when­ever we get doused with freez­ing rain, coun­try driv­ers are very pleased to see the mu­nic­i­pal plow chew­ing up the gravel sur­face and/or lay­ing on a co­pi­ous quan­tity of sand or what­ever is de rigueur in the world of road main­te­nance prod­ucts this year.

The down side to this wise and wide­spread prac­tice is that what goes onto a road usu­ally ends up in the at­mos­phere, on a shoul­der or in a ditch. Ag­gre­gates can be so ag­gra­vat­ing. Dur­ing those won­der­ful early spring days, be­tween snow­storms, we can see the prom­ise of warm weather in the form of dirty snow­banks, speck­led with bits of gravel and dis­carded cof­fee cups. Grad­u­ally, as the last ves­tiges of win­ter be­gin to re­cede, so do the gran­u­lar ma­te­ri­als, while the cof­fee cups re­main for­ever. Where do all those abra­sives go? We re­al­ize that as we be­gin rak­ing along a ditch that large quan­ti­ties of ma­te­ri­als lurk in the un­der­growth, and that many of th­ese sharp hard bits are im­pos­si­ble to dis­cover, let alone re­move.

They con­ceal them­selves in the slowly grow­ing grass and await that glo­ri­ous day when a home owner fires up the lawn mower. Then the abra­sives at­tack the lawn­mower blades, dulling them as the par­ti­cles are caught up by the blades and fired into the air.

The sound of a rock ding­ing off the in­side of a mower is one of the many har­bin­gers of spring.

But that ping­ing in your ears also sig­nals a hor­ri­ble waste of re­sources. Abra­sives don’t grow on trees; ev­ery year, tonnes of the ma­te­ri­als are ap­plied to roads at great pub­lic cost. There ought to be some way of re­duc­ing our re­liance on road main­te­nance prod­ucts that wind up in our ditches and on our lawns.

Even on paved roads, the vol­ume of ma­te­ri­als shoved onto shoul­ders is mas­sive. The ev­i­dence is there for ev­ery mo­torist to see.

For decades, sand was the go-to road prod­uct. But with time, the use of salt and other de-ic­ing chem­i­cals caught on. Sand fell out of favour be­cause its fric­tion qual­i­ties were ques­tioned, and it was con­sid­ered to be too messy. Thus, salt took over as the most trusted fric­tion-cre­at­ing el­e­ment. We all know if you want to cre­ate fric­tion, just men­tion some­body is us­ing too much salt. Of course, this trend is not healthy. “On­tario has some of the most abun­dant fresh­wa­ter sources in the world. But ex­ces­sive road salt is con­tam­i­nat­ing On­tario’s lakes, rivers, creeks and ground­wa­ter. Too much road salt in wa­ter does sig­nif­i­cant and last­ing harm to aquatic ecosys­tems, and can make wa­ter un­drink­able,” warns the En­v­iorn­men­tal Com­mis­sioner of On­tario.

The big­gest sin­gle users of road salt in the prov­ince are the Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion (MTO) and large mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

While gov­ern­ments have taken steps to de­crease salt use, “peo­ple who spread road salt on pri­vate park­ing lots, drive­ways and walk­ways may not un­der­stand how much salt is best, or when to use it to en­sure safety,” the ECO says. Re­search by the Univer­sity of Water­loo showed the po­ten­tial for the re­duc­tion of at least 25 per cent in salt use.

Some re­ports note that the hid­den costs of road salt on in­fra­struc­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment range from $200 to $470 per tonne of road salt ap­plied. Cor­ro­sion from salt can cost car own­ers $850 per year and re­sult in ve­hi­cle brake fail­ures.

But com­mon sense and due dili­gence de­mand that we do our ut­most to en­sure that slip­pery sur­faces are as safe as pos­si­ble. Any icy side­walk can lead to bro­ken bones, a slick park­ing lot can pro­duce a law­suit.

Whether it is sand or salt, or a com­bi­na­tion of abra­sives, we all need some sort of trac­tion aid. And, un­for­tu­nately, it will all come out in the wash, and the rain, and down the drains.

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