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Turning to Beet Juice, Beer to Address Road Salt Danger

Anyone who lives in the northern half of the United States is familiar with the flashing lights, scraping racket and shrill reverse gear siren of the plow and salt truck. After a major snow, these vehicles roam the roads with their shield-like plows deployed, advancing in unison like hoplites and salting the earth behind them to prevent ice. The munitions for their war on slippery roads is visible off major interstates in the form of enormous salt domes, which also have a vaguely martial appearance.

Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for the more than 22 million tons of salt, which works out to about 137 pounds of salt for every resident, dumped onto U.S. roads every year. The Brookings Register reports that new methods of keeping the roads clear of ice without the use of salt are being devised and you might be surprised by what they are using. 

New Hampshire and Maine have created a new formula using molasses; beer waste is being used in areas where it is available in quantity; and beet juice has been adopted by snowy areas as diverse as North Dakota and urban New Jersey. At least one municipality in Wisconsin has used cheese brine. None of these methods can be described as a miraculous breakthrough, but all have succeeded in reducing the amount of salt being used on the roads.
It is worth noting that road salt may be the main cause of increased salinization in local waterways in the northeast, but in the Midwest agriculture is the primary culprit. This is also true in the south, where road salt is not an issue but the salinity of the water has greatly increased over the last 50 years. 

Salt is not the only toxic road hazard. You’ve probably smelled the overpowering, nostril-burning stench when new coal-tar pavement or sealant is being laid on a driveway, street, parking lot or playground. It probably won’t surprise you to find out this stuff, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), is toxic. One recently released study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District identified coal-tar sealants as the primary source of PAHs and called them “a major source of contamination in urban and suburban areas and a potential concern for human health and aquatic life.”
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