Researchers study ways to lessen environmental impact of salt on winter roads

A snow plow clears a city street on the west side of Chicago. (pauldavidy/Flickr)
A snow plow clears a city street in Chicago in 2011. (pauldavidy/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 30, 2014

Researchers at Washington State University are studying ways to lessen the amount of salt used on snowy and icy roadways during the winter.

According to The Salt Institute based in Alexandria, Virginia, 17 million tons of deicing salt is used on U.S. roadways each year. Xianming Shi – a civil and environmental engineering professor at Washington State University – said that a one-mile stretch of a four lane highway requires roughly 16 tons of salt each year and that 99 percent of that salt stays in the environment. Salt has polluted waterways and caused problems for aquatic life in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio.

Shi and his research team are studying environmentally-friendly methods to remove snow and ice from roadways such as beet and tomato juice deicers which are not only less corrosive on vehicles but also on guard rails, steel bridges and concrete pavement. The team has also experimented with using leftover barley residue from vodka distilleries to deice roads.

According to The Salt Institute, the United States spends approximately $2.3 billion each year for snow and ice removal on highways and an additional $5 billion to mitigate hidden costs associated with snow and ice removal such as environmental impacts as well as the effect that various chemicals on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

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