When thermometers plummet below zero, precipitation turns to snow. That’s how we were taught in school. And if it’s not removed or melted, ice conquers the streets to turn them into skating rinks for pedestrians and vehicles. That’s why it’s vitally important to have a good plan.
In Wisconsin, known as the United States’ cheese capital, they have started spraying brine for roads to combat ice and prevent accidents. In this way, they are saving money by using the brine from the production of the cheese they produce and alleviating pollution for the inhabitants.
In Europe, many countries are accustomed to using salt to prevent the roads from freezing over. Sodium chloride does a great job. However, when the temperature drops below 23°F, it loses effectiveness. But certainly, the most negative side of using salt against snow and ice is the considerable impact it has on the environment if used on a massive scale.
A little salt on the roads and surrounding land do not harm, but too much salt can cause severe damage to plants and trees up to 200 meters from the road, leading to a decrease in wildlife in that area as natural resources disappear. The Romans already plowed Carthage’s fields with salt after the Third Punic War, leaving them unusable for centuries. Imagine that.
Besides, it also affects animals that ingest salt water: it increases their blood and tissues’ toxicity. And large animals such as deer, horses, cows, etc., that approach the road attracted by the salt can cause traffic accidents.
According to experts, a high salt concentration can increase the acidity of the water and cause effects similar to those of acid rain. Also, we are all familiar with sodium chloride’s corrosive qualities, which damages both vehicles and road fences and guardrails.
Moreover, countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and Austria, accustomed to heavy snowfalls, have reduced or even eliminated the use of salt in their territory. Let’s see how they have done it.
One of the best alternatives to salt is brine. It is a water and salt solution and is increasingly used, especially in countries where it snows the most. It can be mixed with sand to make tires grip the ground better and is used preventively to avoid ice patches.
Urea. It is used at airports. If the runways and apron are wet and it has not yet iced, urea is spread as an anti-icing agent to prevent icing. It is not sprayed from trucks that have been prepared for this purpose.
Calcium magnesium acetate. This is the least environmentally damaging alternative. It is a solid compound that dissolves in water and is harmless to plants and animals; it also does not corrode metal or damage roads.
Potassium acetate. Very similar to calcium-magnesium acetate. It is less aggressive and corrosive. However, it is more expensive. Both potassium acetate and calcium magnesium acetate can cost up to 20 times more than salt.
Snowplows and civil engineering machines. When snow accumulation on roads and sidewalks is too heavy, neither salt nor any other chemical can help. In such cases, it is essential to resort to snowplows, excavators, and, when these cannot act, to powerful snow milling machines, which absorb the snow and throw it several meters away as is the case with these milling machines in the mountains of Japan, which clear roads buried under a layer of up to 20 meters of snow!
In short: although it may seem impossible, there are other ways to prevent our car from skidding when the roads are icy. It is not always necessary to follow the established script and stick to the usual. We have to innovate; we have to look for alternatives that make us move forward. Until now, salt was the only option that was contemplated. In its favor, it is cheap. But if we take into account the damage it can cause in our cars due to its acidic effect, in addition to the damage to nature that its use entails, is it not wiser to look for other antifreeze agents?