Canadian Manufacturing

Forget the salt: Quebec cities turn to alternatives to keep ice off roads

Bitterly cold, icy conditions are little match for the likes of wood chips and beet juice, two options without adverse effects


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MONTREAL—Several Quebec municipalities that want to reduce their use of rock salt are turning to beet juice and wood chips as alternative de-icing options.

Eric Westram, the mayor of Montreal-area Rosemere, says the Swiss have been using wood chips on roads in the Alps instead of salt since 2008 and “there’s no contest.”

“We’ve been using it for three weeks on two streets near a river where there’s a lot of dampness and a lot of ice formation,” he said in an interview Jan. 23.

Westram pointed out that salt is only effective to temperatures as low as -15 C, while wood chips are good to about -30 C.

He said the chips are mixed with magnesium chloride, which helps them stick to the ground.

Westram added the product is applied with the same equipment that’s used for salting and sanding, but that it doesn’t cause oxidation or damage to the metal machinery.

“I think we found something that has a future,” he said. “We used it (Tuesday) on a street where the slope is really steep and it’s like there was no ice.”

Fanny Poisson, a spokeswoman for Cowansville, about 90 kilometres southeast of Montreal, says the town has opted for a mixture of beet juice and salt for a second winter in a row.

It has only been applied for the past couple of weeks this year due to some equipment trouble, she said.

“It’s beet juice mixed with salt, so it permits us to reduce the amount of salt we use,” Poisson said. “It adds certain properties to the salt to give it a more adherent quality and is also better for the environment.”

Poisson says other municipalities have tried it as well as Quebec’s Transport Department, which has used it on certain provincial highways.

When it launched the $20,000 project, Cowansville expected to use 30 per cent less salt per year.

Westram, meanwhile, said his town briefly tried the beet juice concoction several years ago, but stopped using it because it stained everything.

“It will stain your shoes, it will stain the bottom of your pants, it will stain the equipment, it will stain the cars—it’s something that basically is very hard to remove—a bit like tomato juice,” Westram added.

In the United States, there have been reports of cheese brine, pickle brine and potato juice having been tested as de-icers.

Wisconsin, well-known for its cheese production, has reduced costs by mixing cheese brine with salt for several years.

Faced with a budget crunch in 2011, a county in New Jersey sprayed sidewalks and streets with pickle juice. The green liquid appeared to melt snow as efficiently as salt and also cost a lot less.

Tennessee opted for using potato juice as a de-icer. It’s a waste product that’s left over from the production of vodka and rum. The state has used the spud waste mixed with salt brine on its mountain roads.

Statistics Canada estimates that close to five million tonnes of road salt are used in Canada each year.

It says some environmental contamination risks of road salt are increased salinity of soils, damage to vegetation, contamination of ground and surface water, and fish mortality.

A five-year scientific assessment by Environment Canada determined that in sufficient concentrations, road salts pose a risk to plants, animals and the aquatic environment.

—With files from Sidhartha Banerjee


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