Ice vs. Cheese Brine

With all the snow, we know what mess the roads can be, but have you ever thought about what a mess road salt is for the environment?  Excess road salt leaches into our waterways and can have a detrimental effect on the aquatic life living there.  Various macroinvertebrates, such as small crayfish and insect larvae, living on the bottom of streams are greatly impacted by changes in salinity.  Due to the sensitivity of these creatures, the diversity and number of macroinvertabrates can be used to assess the overall health of a waterway.  Additionally, salt has been shown to have direct, negative impacts on larger animals.  For example, birds are very sensitive to salt and can die within 45 minutes after salt consumption.

Yet, anyone who has driven on an unplowed, snowy road knows that we need salt to keep things safe.  Is there an environmentally friendly solution? Several states and cities are currently grappling with this question and are coming up with some creative solutions.  One possible solution is to mix salt with a beet juice mixture.  The beet juice mixture allows road salt to melt ice at a lower temperature and, due to its inherent stickiness, prevents road salt from bouncing off the road.  The molasses and beet juice mixture is sold by the company Beet Heet and was used in 175 municipal agents in 2014, with the majority of those municipalities in the Midwest.

Cheese Brine and Salt Mixture - nytimes
Cheese Brine and Salt Mixture – nytimes

Surprisingly, cheese brine can also be used as a melting agent.  Not so surprisingly, this idea was first widely used in Wisconsin.  By treating roads with both liquid cheese brine and road salt, there are reductions in the amount of road salt used, because the cheese brine helps to bind the salt to the road and speeds up the melting process.  Furthermore, by using cheese brine on roads, cheese producers no longer have to pay to have their brine wastes removed.  While the environmental impacts of cheese brine are yet to be widely studied, we know that its use reduces the amount of road salt used, which has positive impacts for the environment.

By finding natural agents to mix with road salt, we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of road salt, thereby reducing environmental risk, saving municipalities money, and improving road safety.  With beet juice and cheese brine in tow, there is only one thing left to do – bring on the snow!

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