With the polar vortex causing relentless snowstorms this winter, cities across the country are running out of road salt. Road salt which is basically the same salt that we eat is the most inexpensive way to melt the snow. Although a potential lifesaver for everyone on the road, it can be detrimental to environment. More than 22 million tons of road salt used nationwide each year doesn’t just disappear after the snow melts. Salt water runoff ends up in rivers and streams, thereby gradually increasing salt concentrations in waterways and groundwater. The salt can dehydrate roadside plants, kill aquatic life, cause rusting of vehicles, result in corrosion of roads and irritate animals’ paws.
The good news is that increasing awareness regarding environmental concerns forces agencies across the country to seek smarter techniques to minimize the use of road salt while achieving the same performance. Municipalities are using smart plow trucks equipped with computers that track storm conditions, pavement temperatures, and local weather to determine the optimal amount of salt needed. Other strategies include spraying wet salt, which keeps the salt from slipping off the road, and pre spraying before a storm. Other potential options include mixing the road salt with chemicals such as magnesium chloride, potassium acetate as well as inexpensive materials such as gravel, pumice, sand, molasses, beet juice, and cheese brine. Improved deicing techniques such as heaters embedded in road surface, pervious pavement surface which can soak the snow right through, improvement in road design that reduces runoff are being developed.