Thursday, February 13, 2014

Back to the old salt mines

A forty-pound bag of rock salt sits in our building’s foyer, where there are also two eight-pound shaker jugs. There’s a forty-pound bag of calcium chloride in the back hall. And two back up, just in case, eight pound shaker jugs in our unit.

Many years ago, I misjudged some black ice on our front steps.


I ended up with six-months worth of sciatica.

Never again!

I’m not completely sure what the difference is between rock salt and calcium chloride, but, come winter, I use salt liberally.

No one’s going to break a hip on our front steps, sidewalk, or back entrance. Especially not me.

As us hardy New Englanders are well aware, just as – come summer (please, come summer!) it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity – it’s not the snow, it’s the ice that’ll kill you.

And it’s not, of course, just the sidewalks and steps that get the salt treatment. Most of the salt that gets shaken out each winter is used on the roads, where we use plenty of it – 10 to 20 million tons each year in the U.S. just to keep us from skidding our way into fifty-car pileups.

It’s generally true that someone’s downside is someone else’s upside.

Downside is crappy weather for us civilians.

But snowy winter upsiders include snow plow drivers, hardware stores, and paid shovelers. (An aside: each year, before the first big storm, all the local news stations head to the nearest Home Depot and talk to people buying shovels. Now, Halite and Ice Melt are definitely items that need to be replenished regularly, but one you own a couple of shovels, how often do you have to replace them? They’re pretty big, so kind of hard to lose, no? And yet, there are always people scurrying into Home Depot to grab a last minute shovel. Are there all that many Floridians and Arizonans migrating to New England each year? Other than reverse snow-birds, who doesn’t have a shovel? Our building has five or six stowed in various spots, and I personally own an ice chopper. Trust me, it’s come in mighty handy at times.)

Anyway, while those who handle snow, and those who handle snow supplies, are clear beneficiaries of winter’s largesse, so, too are salt miners:

American companies like Morton Salt and Cargill get their rock salt from mines as well as evaporated salt plants and solar salt operations…With salt reserves running low, companies are now struggling to keep up with orders. “We are working overtime in our mines to try and keep up with demand,” said Cargill spokesman Mark Klein in an e-mail. (Source: Business Week)

So, upside for the salt miners, and for Morton and Cargill, who get to sell more for more.

But then there’s yet another downside, as runoff from all those salty roads gets into the water supply.

So states are looking for new and innovative approaches:

New York launched a pilot program to de-ice roads using beet juice, which helps stop the runoff of salt; waste from beer making would apparently do the same thing…New Jersey, meanwhile, is experimenting with pickle brine, and Milwaukee in December began pouring cheese brine on its streets. “You want to use provolone or mozzarella,” Jeffrey A. Tews, a fleet operations manager for the public works department, told the New York Times. “Those have the best salt content. You have to do practically nothing to it.”

Got it.

If we ever run out of salt in our building, I can always go out and shred some mozzarella on the front steps, or break open a jar of kosher dills.

No comments: