Publication Date: December 5, 2018
Remember the last time it snowed, just a few weeks ago? As you walked outside, you probably felt the cold crisp winter air and the soft cold snow hit your face. You may have also seen the blue road salt scattered across the sidewalks on campus and heard a crunching sound as you walked.
According to US News, out of the approximately 4,094 students that attend Rider, 46 percent of students live off campus. This comes out to approximately 1,883 students that commute during the 2018-2019 academic year. Now that it is December, and we already have one snow event under our belt, the report is that this winter will be very wet. According to the Farmers’ Almanac winter outlook, the North-East will experience a wet winter with above average snowfall. Although finals are around the corner, Rider’s salt use is something of importance.
Salt use in the United States has increased over the past few decades at an alarming rate. According to the Salt Institute, between the winter of 2013 and 2014, an estimated 20 million tons of road salt was applied to roadways in the United States. The most commonly used road salt, and what Rider uses, is made up of 96 percent sodium chloride. The reason salt is such an efficient road deicer is because it lowers the freezing point of the water around it. The liquid on top of ice mixes with the salt, which causes the ice to melt. The more salt used, the more effective the process is.
While it is very helpful to make roads and sidewalks safer, a result of all the salt used is causing a myriad of issues. First, it is expensive. The price around the country in 2018 has increased to around $20 to $30 per ton of road salt. This really adds up when you have long and more extreme winters, like that we are predicted to get in the Northeast United States. Not only that, but the salt exacerbates the rate of breakdown of roads and other types of infrastructures. This creates safety hazards for cars and pedestrians that regularly use the roads and sidewalks.
Hongbing Sun, an associate professor of hydrology and geology, did a study about the use of road salt at Rider. According to his research, road salt use on campus between December 2017 and March 2018, was about 125 tons. When asked about his thoughts about it, he said, “My main concern is the drinking water. The amount of salt in our soil and ultimately water is increasing every year. Water treatment plants don’t treat water for salt, and since annually around 70 percent of salt stays in soil, the groundwater that is treated is getting saltier.”
When asked about the beet brine alternative, Lauren Margel, a senior environmental science student said, “I think something like that, if as effective, would be a great alternative to solely relying on road salts. Rider seems to be using a lot of salt, so alternatives like this are something that should be looked into more everywhere.”
While road salt use is ubiquitous, there are alternatives that are gaining traction. One that is being used more is a mix of beet brine and salt to pre-treat roads before a storm to prevent the formation of ice. It is said to be a more cost effective and eco-friendly way to de-ice streets without having to only use salt.