Hidden Hazard: Road Salt

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Magnesium chloride, which the state uses in
combination with salt to remove snow from the roads, is highly corrosive. And that\’s led to an epidemic of rusted out undercarriages and brake lines.


Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, is supporting a bill that that would require the state Department of Transportation to analyze the corrosive effects of chemical road treatments on vehicles, roads and bridges and the environment. The legislature\’s transportation committee will hold a hearing on the measure, Raised Bill 5288, on Friday.

\”What we\’re hearing from mechanics is, they are replacing brake lines every three years or less,\’\’ Sawyer said. The corrosion is taking a toll on emergency vehicles, school buses, commercial trucks and private passenger vehicles, she said.

According to a report issued last month by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Research,  the DOT uses liquid magnesium chloride to wet the salt it applies to roads during snowstorms. \”DOT is aware of the chemical’s effect on vehicles, but says chloride salts are currently the most effective and economical material for maintaining safe winter roads, and that the benefits of a chloride-based snow and ice program for motorists’ safety and the efficient flow of traffic far outweigh the increased risk of corrosion,\’\’ the report states.

The DOT used to use a mix of sand and salt, but switched to liquid chemicals and salt in 2006. The change was prompted by a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of
a January 2003 crash on I-95 that killed four people. The NTSB concluded that the state’s inadequate roadway treatment contributed to the crash, the ORL report states.

Initially, the department included a rust-inhibitor in its winter road treatment formula, but it discontinued it in 2007, due largely to concerns about its impact on nearby waterways.

Sawyer said she would like to see the DOT look at what Colorado and Maine have done with regard to road chemicals. \”Maybe [they] found a better balance,\’\’ she said.


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