More (Or Less) Road Salt

Emily Long

Less than a week after I posted my blog post about the environmental and health problems associated with road salt, the Boston Globe published an article about de-icing alternatives some Massachusetts communities are turning to. Boston has received almost 50 inches of snow this winter compared to a total of 17 inches on average around this time. We can only assume that it means we’re using record amounts of salt to combat all this snow. While it is difficult to say if the increased snowfall we’re seeing is directly related to climate change, increased temperatures tend to increase evaporation thus resulting in increased precipitation.  (In the Northeast, there has been a 5 to 10% increase in annual average precipitation since 1900.) More generally speaking, scientists are increasingly concerned about the link between global warming and anomalous winter weather (such as the bizarre snowstorms seen recently in the South). As such, it is encouraging to hear that towns are looking to more environmentally friendly alternatives to deal with our new weather conditions as the planet continues to warm.

Besides rock salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride and magnesium chloride can be used in colder temperatures but unfortunately, they are significantly more expensive than the traditional rock salt. Instead a growing number of Massachusetts communities are returning to an age-old solution: brine. The mixture is a combination of rock salt and water. Applying brine before snow falls and ice forms on the roadway (known as “anti-icing”) can prevent snow and ice from sticking to roads. Unlike plain old rock salt, this stuff doesn’t bounce or get blown off the roads like we’ve all seen. As such it dramatically reduces the amount of salt used and the time it takes to remove snow and ice from the roads in turn saving towns money. A study done in Oregon and Washington state showed that anti-icing can decrease costs by more than 50% compared to conventional de-icing. And it reduces the amount of salt that gets into our drinking water and the negative impacts on the environment.

This yet again reinforces the idea that solutions that are good for the environment are often also good for people and the economy.

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