Snow, ice aren't the only things road salt will eat away at

Snow, ice aren't the only things road salt will eat away at

With fresh snow once again blanketing the area, fleets of trucks armed with road salt have renewed their attack on the white menace.

But as anyone who has ever walked out in their dress shoes knows, road salt can wear and tear at everything.

"I don't drive my car in the winter months," said Leroy Gaston, detailing manager at Andy's Enterprise and Auto Beauty in Champaign. "I know not many people can do that, but whatever you do, your car's still going to die a slow death."

From the damage it does to your shoes to the effects it could have on the environment, road salt has been called into question as the best solution to the wintery problem.

The city of Champaign alone goes through about 3,500 tons of it in an average winter, said public works spokesman Kris Koester. Urbana began the winter season with 1,340 tons on hand and plans to buy another 1,440 for the year through the Illinois Joint Purchasing Program, said city employee John Collins.

"With the very cold temps and type of snows so far, we have used more than I would like for this time of year," Collins said. "We do take into account every factor involved in a winter event so that we can minimize salt usage to protect the environment, yet provide the best service that we can."

Gaston warned that there's not much one can do to prevent the damage salt does to vehicles: "All you can really do as a rule is always wash your car as much as you can and wax it a couple of times a year."

When he buys old cars, Gaston prefers to get them from Southern states like Texas and Louisiana, where you won't find shelves full of road salt at hardware stores, like you do here.

Recently, he said, a 14-year-old pickup truck came into his shop looking almost pristine at first sight. But the universal joint — the part of the vehicle that holds the shaft in place for rear-wheel-drive cars — was cut almost clean off by rust from salt damage.

Salt, leather a bad mix

Van Boyd, manager at the Urbana shoe-repair store Heel and Toe, said it will set you back $10 to get the white streaking from the salt off your shoes. Oftentimes, dressier shoes have a thin outer layer of leather that can wear out pretty fast in the salt. And without proper care, your shoes could never look the same again, he said.

He recommended wearing boots to get to work and waiting until you get inside to slip on your dress shoes. He also gives this quick solution to the white staining: "a solution of half water, half white vinegar will do. Just scrub it out with that."

Tracy Wingler, maintenance supervisor for the Champaign County Highway Department, said he still has 2,000 tons of salt in storage and another 2,000 in reserve that hasn't been delivered yet.

Just handling road salt can dry out your skin, he says. And the liquid salt the department uses on some trucks can burn your skin if the temperature is low enough.

Fortunately, he said, it doesn't do much damage to the roads. But salt run-off from de-icing missions may be adversely affecting freshwater rivers, streams and other bodies of water across North America, according to a study published a week ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It found that these bodies of water have become saltier and more alkaline in part because of the rock salt used on roads across the north.

Across 232 U.S. Geological Survey monitoring sites, 66 percent of streams and rivers showed an increase in pH caused by salt pollution, which included road de-icers.

'It's the best we've got'

Few alternatives to rock salt exist, though. Wingler said he hasn't worked with any that do the job quite as well.

One such alternative — molasses-based beet juice mixed with rock salt — can help melt ice below rock salt's 15-degree limit. But it's sticky, Wingler said, and many people complained of the cumbersome effect on cars when the county used it more than a decade ago.

Another solution may come from our neighbors up north. In Wisconsin, not surprisingly, cheese brine is spread all over roads in at least a half-dozen counties, according to the state's department of transportation. It's a waste product from cheese production that's mixed with salt.

For now, though, Wingler said there's no good alternative to the moisture-sucking, car-damaging, shoe-destroying salt.

"Right now, it's the best we've got," he said.

Sections (3):News, Local, Weather

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
GLG wrote on January 16, 2018 at 8:01 am

Salt Saves Lives, It's the lowest cost product to use on ice. IDOT in Piatt County is using Beet brine with rock salt and it works.  When the roads are icey slow down and live!