Salting our roads in an effort to remove ice is a long standing practice in North America. In fact, we dump more than 20 million tons of sodium chloride on our roads every winter. But where does all that salt go when the snow and ice melts? While the salt does a decent job of making our roads and sidewalks safer, the ecological ramifications are much greater than we think.
One of the biggest concerns with the use of salt is how it affects our water quality. In 2009, the University of Minnesota did a study of 39 lakes, 3 rivers, streams that empty into larger bodies of water and many observation wells, revealing that nearly 70% of the salt used for snow removal ends up in our watershed. This not only affects our drinking water, but also animals and especially marine life. The cost and difficulty of removing salt from our water makes it nearly impossible to do. So what can we do instead?
Beet juice has been proven to work wonders on snow and ice removal. Many North American cities have been applying the juice to their roads ahead of storms for many years now. Toronto introduced the use of beet juice nearly 7 years ago when the city recognized that sodium chloride is no longer effective as a de-icer at temperatures of -20 or less. Other municipalities such as Hamilton, Kitchener, Cambridge and Guelph have been using a beet-based product for years and were most recently joined by the town of Cowansville, Quebec. The Niagara Region, who also makes use of a beet-based de-icer has figured they save $2 per lane, per kilometre by switching from salt to a beet juice product. That can add up pretty quickly.
There are a few different beet juice products out there but the creation of this solution is generally the same. Natural de-icers such as Beet 55 and Beet Heet are created using a mixture of sugar-beet juice and saline. The resulting product is a slightly sticky, brown liquid that doesn’t stain and can last up to 2-5 days. The only reported side effect (aside from the colour) is the sweet smell it has. It has been described as smelling like caramel or a Tootsie Roll. Sounds ok to me!
The use of a beet-based product for ice removal has proven to:
- be agriculturally safe
- pose minimal harm to grass and other plant life
- do less damage to roads
- increase the life of equipment used to deliver the product
- require fewer applications
- work better in frigid conditions
Naturally many of these benefits also result in lower costs to cities and taxpayers. So, considering the perks of using such a product, this week we want to know:
Should Kingston start using beet juice as a de-icer?
- Yes. (92%, 710 Votes)
- Not sure. (4%, 34 Votes)
- No. (3%, 25 Votes)
Total Voters: 769
While the use of beet juice can be less than aesthetically pleasing, I’m sure many Kingstonians would be happy to put up with a bit of brown snow if it means easier walking around town and especially fewer snow days. Days like today are a perfect example of just how treacherous the ice and snow combo can be. While the city was proactive by laying down salt leading up to last Tuesday’s ice storm, the snow that has now covered the icy remains can make our roads and sidewalks appear deceivingly safe. Of course, there is also the environmental impact to consider. Perhaps making a move to something that has proven to work elsewhere, will save us money, and will benefit our drinking water and wildlife is something the City of Kingston needs to explore.
Thank you to Homespot HQ for today’s photo.