The White Stuff

Mmmm, man this road smells good. In fact it’s making me hungry. Ever get that feeling?

I admit it’s not going to happen very often, but there might have been an occurrence in Ankeny, Iowa, just before Christmas. A local company that produces kitchen spices found itself with nine tons of unneeded garlic salt. So they donated it to the city. It seems the salt is much the same as the stuff road crews rely on and the fragrant de-icer was mixed in with the city’s regular salt supply and used during a snowstorm.

Seems it worked quite well, and the city’s Public Works Administrator Al Olson is quoted in the Des Moines Register as being doubly thankful. The donated salt saved the city about $1,400, and it helped clear city streets instead of being dumped in a landfill. Olson is also apparently okay with the lingering scent of garlic in the city’s storage facility. No word if local Italian restaurant business is up.

Speaking of road salt. The soaring cost per ton is proving the old ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ adage. No matter what it costs, some cities have to have it and they are finding new ways to get the most for the salt dollars. Susan Gilmore reports in the Seattle Times that in Washington State saltwater left over from rinsing whey is being mixed with a chemical and molasses to create a road de-icer. The mixture is 75 percent saltwater, 5 percent calcium chloride and 20 percent de-sugared molasses to stick to the roadway. The gooey molasses keeps the mixture working for up to three days.

The saltwater, left over after the salty whey is washed so it can be used as animal feed, is collected from a cheese factory. In the Washington DOT recipe, the water used in the de-icer is 23.3 percent salt (by comparison seawater is 3.3 percent salt). Some of the salt comes from the whey and the rest the DOT gets from rock salt. Gilmore reports that the

DOT saves thousands of dollars by making the product itself. The department used to pay $1.30 a gallon for a de-icer; the new product costs only 48 cents a gallon.

Other local governments are trying to use salt creatively. In Montgomery County, Ohio, crews are constantly tinkering with chemical-salt mixes to minimize salt use; in New England some crews are pre-treating roads so that de-icing salt is falling on wet ground not frozen ground – so it stays where it is dropped and doesn’t bounce off – some are using all chemicals and some mixing sand and salt. And WTHR television in Indiana reports the state has joined a 14-state pilot program and installed special computers on 125 salt trucks. The driver enters information such as the current air and ground temperature, the amount of snow falling and the anticipated amount of precipitation. That data is evaluated by a weather service and instructions are relayed back to the driver on how much salt to spread and for how long.

Back at the Seattle Times where Susan Kelleher and Warren Cornwall report on the “sand or salt” debate in Seattle. Does salt harm aquatic life or by the time it hits open water is it too diluted? Does it damage bridges? Since sand simply packs snow and ice is it effective? And does sand in fact do more harm to marine life that salt? And so on. Seattle uses sand; it hasn’t used salt to any great degree since the ‘90s.

Better Roads magazine has produced an in-depth look at salt shortages this winter. You find that story and more on a December 19th post on this blog just a few postings back.