City shouldn’t rely on salt

By Angelina McNeela

DeKalb needs to switch to eco-friendly alternatives to salt for melting icy roads.

Salt has proven to be effective at combating icy roads, but DeKalb should consider using alternatives like soy products, molasses and urea. Not only are these products more environmentally safe, but they will help the city get through another salt shortage.

“Last year we went over [the salt supply by] 20 percent and went basically down to the last granule,” said Public Works Director T.J. Moore.

The colder the weather gets the less effective salt becomes, especially when the temperatures fall under 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a Nov. 8, 2001, Chicago Tribune article. This problem has led counties throughout the Midwest, including DeKalb, to experiment with less corrosive products, such as beet juice or cheese brine, according to a Feb. 10 Time article.

Besides the salt losing its effect in cold temperatures, it accumulates along roadways and, when mixed with melted ice, leaks into the environment.

“In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported alarming levels of sodium and chloride in groundwater along the East Coast,” said Xianming Shi, Washington State University associate professor in civil and environmental engineering, according to a Wednesday university news release. “Once salt exceeds the legal threshold, there are increased health risks and you can’t use it for drinking water.”

Salt leakage poses risks to bodies of water and soil, and it affects animals by burning their paws or seeping into their ecosystems.

“That’s the issue with salt sand naturally,” said Emil Norby, technical support manager of Wisconsin County Highway Association. That township is searching for alternatives to using mainly salt. Salt “migrates out into waterways and can fill fish beds. So, for us it’s always a battle … that you don’t want to use too much of any product ’cause you don’t want to hurt the environment.”

Alternatives, such as soy products, beet juice or urea, may not stand up to the effectiveness of salt, which is why DeKalb needs to search for the perfect combination.

“Eventually, someday I could see us being told by the Environmental Protection Agency that we can no longer use salt as a deicing agent,” Moore said. “If I didn’t have to put salt out there I wouldn’t. But, these other non-chlorides are not as effective. Not only are they incredibly expensive, but … I’m not sure that they could provide just enough for DeKalb.”