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Rock (salt) My World

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that roads get salted very heavily during winter storms these days? Coming down the freeway on the way home from work, the car sounded like it was on a gravel road. Maybe I was only a half-mile or so behind the salt truck, so the road was freshly salted for me. But I've been seeing lots of salt residue on roads after storms, though, long after the roads have dried. Not to mention parking lots—those are getting highly salted too. Even sidewalks in public areas seem to be getting heavier ice melter treatments than in past years. They've been really enthusiastic over the NaCl and CaCl deposits at work this year. I just don't remember salt being that heavily used in years past.

All that stuff has to go somewhere, y'know? It'll end up in drains and back out into the lakes, or into the soil nearby the pavement. How much salt is really needed?

Maybe it's only in metro Detroit, I don't know. Detroit sits on top of salt mines; maybe the road commissions are getting a really good price on what's left down there.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2008 03:27 am (UTC)
Salt pollution, like light pollution, is a serious problem that is largely ignored or even laughed at. Yes, far too much salt is dumped on roads and streets and much of it at times when it will do little or no good. I think it's viewed as a cheap way to "look like we're doing something," a political expedient rather than a real solution to a problem.

Salt doesn't work at low temperatures. I believe the cutoff is fairly high, like about 19°F. Below that, it is ineffective. However, it does damage our vehicles, poison our soil and air, damage vegetation within 25 to 50 feet or so, and even damages the roadbed itself under the right circumstances. As you point out, it washes into the sewers or surface runoff and ends up in ground water or worse yet, lakes and ponds where it does more ecological damage.

Road commissions and departments dump salt on top of fresh snow, which is stupid. All it does is make slush that invariably freezes anyway in the temperature drop that follows a heavy snowfall. Not only that, but when you mix salt with ice or snow, it becomes a sponge that soaks heat out of its surroundings. Why do we suppose our grandmothers used salt and ice to freeze their ice cream? So in the right temperature range, the ice melts where it is in contact with the salt, but the resulting brine soaks up heat from adjacent slush that has a lower salt concentration, freezing it into dangerous slickness.

Sand is a much better aid to traction, and has none of the drawbacks of salt except that it doesn't make money for the salt merchants. It does, however, require drivers to SLOW DOWN, which is a very unpopular option.

You may think Detroit is bad, but you should see Chicago. Ever since the blizzard of 1979, when Michael Bilandic was kicked out of office by Jayne Byrne as a result of city ineptitudes in dealing with the heavy snow accumulations, Chicago has dumped tons of salt on city streets as soon as a single flake of snow appears. By March, many neighborhoods have salt drifts in the gutters that are larger than any remaining snow piles. All that salt washes into Chicago's storm sewers when the April showers arrive, and ends up in the sanitary canal on its way to the Mississippi River, or else in the boondoggle project of the 20th century, the Deep Tunnel. (And ultimately, still in the Mississippi basin.) Of course, that means it will wash into the Gulf of Mexico eventually, but not until it has contaminated and affected every ecological system along the way.
Feb. 7th, 2008 08:26 am (UTC)
Hey.. You asked for the real stuff, so now we have real snow..

That's not the salt you're hearing. It's the ice from the snow they didn't do an damn thing with and cars packed into super dense ice that salt alone can not melt. It's still out there.. Now all exposed.. Harmless since it's more traction than the snow, but damn annoying to drive on. A few hours of sun and the salt will make it go away.

BTW. This snow was very easy to drive in even on streets that were not plowed or salted. Kind of nice to drive in 6" of fresh snow and not get tossed all over the road.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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