Date: January 7, 2015

National Salt Shortage Leads to Traction Sand

National Salt Shortage Leads to Traction Sand

National Salt Shortage Leads to Traction Sand

Last winter left salt producers short of product, giving way to more environmentally friendly ice treatments like traction sand.

Due to the harsh 2013-2014 winter season, municipalities that had a few years of overages actually depleted their supply completely thus leading to needing to completely restock to prepare for this season.  Once public and municipal facilities stock up as they have priority, there is talk those private businesses and citizens will be left with extremely high prices per ton as salt continues to be in short supply.  In Northeastern and Midwestern states, counties are already paying up to 50% more for road salt than last year. 

In addition to corroding body work and brake lines in our automobiles as well as damaging concrete bridges and parking garages, rock salt eventually washes off the roads and into streams and lakes.  Once the salt reaches these waterways, it raises the sodium and chloride content of the water causing harmful environmental effects.  According to a recently released U.S. Geological Survey report, the “average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.”  In conclusion to their report, deicing activity is the major source of salt to northern waters in the U.S.  What is a viable, cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative?  Sand.

Traction sand is a great substitute for salt.  Sand is inexpensive, provides traction, and sweeps up easily.  Sand also has a relatively low albedo, which means it will absorb sunlight and contribute to faster melting.  The most beneficial trait of traction sand is that it will not harm the environment unlike other ice-melting products that are urea-based and contain nitrogen.  As the ice and snow melts to run off into waterways, the nitrogen spurs growth of harmful algae blooms (HABs) and depletes life-sustaining oxygen from the water.  This is particularly a major concern for the Chesapeake Bay.  The bay’s overall average salinity ranges from 13-17 parts per thousand.  High levels of salinity in the Chesapeake Bay have detrimental effects on this valuable estuary and its ecosystem.          

According to the Salt Institute, roadways are sprayed with 17 million tons of road salt every year nationwide.  Within the Chesapeake Bay region, roughly 20 tons of road salt is applied for each mile of a four-lane highway during an average year.  Last year there were 272 snow events in major North American salt market areas compared to a 10-year average of 157.  It may take several relatively mild winters in order to bring back salt supplies to a normal level and have prices back down.  Taking into consideration the bottom line and the waterways throughout our region, one may want to consider contacting your local traction sand supplier.