In recent years, there has been more discussion about alternative ways to melt ice and the environmental impact of road salt during the winter months. There seems to be more momentum than ever to find alternative solutions.
Every year, cities across Canada spread millions of tons of road salt on pavement to combat the slick, icy winter conditions. The expense of delivering and implementing this salt is large, but has not been prohibitive to its use. Instead, there has been a consistently growing body of research that highlights the impact salt can have on infrastructure, buildings and the environment, as well as clothing and pets.
According to Carl Kuhnke, an expert in infrastructure and transportation for the University of Saskatchewan, says road salt increases the speed at which rebar corrodes inside concrete, which causes roads, bridges and buildings to degrade more quickly. This explains the poor conditions of infrastructure like the Gardiner expressway in Toronto, the Champlain Bridge in Montreal, and the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake in 2012.
Looking Into Alternative Ways to Melt Ice
The main reason cities and provinces continue to turn to salt as a solution to wintery weather is cost. It is relatively inexpensive, especially for a solution that can be used so broadly. In Toronto, for example, the city uses between 130,000 and 150,000 tons of salt a year.
There are other solutions that are either more costly or less effective. Sand, for example, is often used by cities in northern parts of Canada that have colder temperatures where salt is not an option. Road salt is only effective to around -18 C. In addition, solutions like magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and potassium chloride can be used, but cost significantly more.
At some point, however, the effects of widespread road salt use will reach critical mass. Reports have demonstrated that the impact of road salt on wildlife, water, soil and plants can be so distressing that it could be added to Canada’s list of highly toxic substances.
A handful of communities throughout North America have been testing new, more environmentally friendly alternatives ways to melt ice, which may or may not have the potential to become used more broadly.
In the United States, some municipalities have been experimenting with using beet juice on roads before snow arrives, or mixing the juice with salt for de-icing. Sugar in beet water helps the salt work in lower temperatures and keeps it on the roads, reducing run-off.
Other communities have experimented with cheese and dairy brines. Wisconsin, being a massive producer of dairy products, has plenty of cheese brine byproduct available, and it can be used as a road salt alternative.
Finally, New Jersey recently tested spraying their pavement with pickle juice. The liquid melted snow as efficiently as salt, cost the communities less money and was better for the environment.
It is difficult to say at this point whether any of these alternative ways to melt ice will ever catch on to the extent that they can effectively replace road salt, but it is clear that municipalities are having discussions about whether road salt is truly worth using if it continues to damage the environment.