January 5, 2021
Road salt is critical. Without it, routine life would grind to a halt come winter. Deicing the streets makes it safe for vehicles to drive through the after-effects of a snowstorm or blizzard. The country goes through an estimated 20 million tons of road salt each winter, poured on snow-locked streets in both rural and urban areas. This works out to a staggering 120 pounds of salt for every American in the country.
As necessary as road salt is, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. It doesn’t go away on its own, can cause several problems, and ends up hurting the environment. We’ll examine the impact of road salt in this article and how your Department of Transportation (DOT) or associated business can realistically mitigate the side-effects.
Road salt and deicing aren’t new. The country first began using road salt as far back as 1938. It was poured onto the streets in New Hampshire – and it turned out to be a cheap and effective method of providing better traction to vehicles. During the early 1940s, 5,000 tons of salt were spread on highways across the country. The use of road salt increased drastically in the preceding decades. Today, road salt is mined from huge salt mines in states like Kansas, Ohio, New York, and Michigan.
Road salt isn’t always the salt you sprinkle on food (sodium chloride). It’s an umbrella term for a wide variety of products that can interfere with water’s ability to solidify into ice. This includes sodium chloride, calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, and potassium chloride. How does it work exactly? We’ll spare you the technical details. Suffice to say, road salt releases ions that hamper the formation of snow, helps melt it, and also reduces the temperature at which water turns into ice. It’s why seawater remains unfrozen even at 32 °F (0 °C). DOTs apply road salt before adverse weather is estimated to hit, and often during adverse weather as well.
The salt doesn’t go away by itself, nor does it evaporate. Instead, it moves away from the road with snow water melt runoff and through the air as granules launched by spinning vehicle tires. The salt that runs off enters into the groundwater, and into streams, ponds, and wells. The salt that disperses through the air ends up accumulating near the sides of the road, with measurable amounts being found as far away as 600+ feet (200m+).
Road salt accumulates over time, and is hazardous to the environment and human health:
As things stand, we can’t make do without road salt. Scientists are coming up with environmentally-safe alternatives like beet juice and cheese brine. Until a practical breakthrough is made, we can mitigate the damage caused by road salt and aim for sustainability. Here are some ways you (personally) and your organization can make a difference:
Stockpile Reports allows you to revolutionize your road salt management with the help of low-cost installed cameras, computer vision, and an iPhone app. Every pile can be measured, any time. You can keep tabs on your inventory, verify, manage, use, and reorder appropriately with the help of concrete, near-real-time data. You remain in control of your road salt use – you can reduce waste, speed up operations, and generally operate more efficiently.
We save human lives every winter by using road salt, but it hurts the environment too. Until we come up with environmentally-safer alternatives, it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to make more cautious, mindful use of existing road salt. That includes minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency. It’s good both for your DOT budget as well as the environment. Learn more about how SR can make your road salt use more sustainable by talking to our team of experts right now.
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