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From the road to the faucet: a sip of sodium?

February 1, 2012

Managing regional roadways during winter conditions is a balancing act that involves weighing the pros and cons of various products, their cost-effectiveness and their impacts on human and environmental health. Ironically, the same products that can harm plant, animal and human life are also the ones that increase human safety when it comes to driving during ice and snow events.

Throughout most of the Town of Tusten, a mixture of salt (sodium chloride) and sand is applied. Both products have the advantages of lower cost and relative abundance. Salt is effective at temperatures as low as 24 degrees Fahrenheit. Its primary drawbacks are that it is more corrosive than other ice-melting compounds, more harmful to plant and aquatic life and not effective in extremely cold conditions.

Salt used to be the weapon of choice throughout the Town of Tusten, but when water tests conducted by town officials in 2007 began showing levels of sodium in the Narrowsburg Water District (NWD) that were high enough to hit standards set by the New York State Department of Health (DOH), an alternative was sought to bring those levels down.

According to new highway superintendent Glenn Swendsen, that alternative, which is applied as a liquid spray in pre-treating roads prior to storm events primarily on the Narrowsburg Flats, is the magnesium chloride product “Meltdown 26% with AP,” supplied by Innovative Municipal Products, Inc., based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Like all road treatment products, this one comes with its set of pros and cons. On the whole however, it is considered more environmentally friendly than most other options. Less corrosive, it is also less harmful to plant life and can melt snow in temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the downside, it is more expensive, leaves an oily residue and takes on a “slimy” quality when it comes into contact with moisture. This effect can sometimes create its own challenges, as Swendsen discovered one day when the vehicle he was operating slipped sideways on a treated road in the flats.