The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

January 8, 2014

Un-beet-able road cure? Vegetable byproduct tested as de-icer

JOHNSTOWN — Ask any car owner in Pennsylvania to name his or her pet peeve, and road salt would probably top many drivers’ lists. It also isn’t a favorite of homeowners, either.

That’s why were are interested in a Department of Transportation plan to experiment with beet juice as a highway de-icer during cold weather.

Already, municipalities in Illinois, Colorado and Idaho are using concoctions of beet juice mixed with rock salt to help treat icy roads.

PennDOT officials contend that chemicals in the juice enhance the salt’s ability to melt ice at lower temperatures.

Salt, they say, is basically worthless once the thermometer dips below 20 degrees. But add a dash of juice, and the salt will keep working to zero or below-zero temperatures.

PennDOT experimented with beet juice several years ago, but a new recipe that incorporates more sugar is being tested in Butler County. We are curious why they wouldn’t choose a more mountainous area, perhaps Somerset, Westmoreland or Bedford county. But it is, after all, just a test.

The rock salt that Penn-DOT, and almost every other municipality, spews on our highways is not popular with car owners. The salt has a habit of working its way into the tiniest cracks and crevices in our vehicles, only to reappear in several years as rust spots, or worse, holes. By the time the rust appears on your car’s surface, it has already caused major damage to your vehicle’s body panels as it eats it way through the metal.

And homeowners with concrete driveways and garage floors also know the damages caused by de-icer. It shows up as spalling, or the erosion of the top layer of concrete.

Salt also has been blamed for eroding, and eventually weakening, the steel structures of many of our state’s bridges.

We hope a solution that makes salt and de-icer effective – and therefore uses less of them – can be found. But we do have some reservations about the products being tested.

Now we hear of transportation officials in the nation’s snow belt experimenting with other natural de-icers. Milwaukee road bosses are testing cheese brine, a byproduct of the cheese-making process, to make their roads safer. Other areas are testing molasses and potato juice. Pig urea, yes, that’s right, pig urine, also is catching the eye of transportation officials.

As with any product used as a de-icer, environmental impacts must be studied. How will the runoff affect water quality and plant life? And the beet juice may leave a brown stain on pavements, although we’re sure that wouldn’t be much of a concern to motorists.

Also, would beet juice, molasses or cheese brine attract more wild animals, and perhaps domestic animals, to the roads? Hunters know bears have a sweet tooth for molasses, and they might develop a taste for cheese brine. And how would Pennsylvania’s deer – and their larger cousins, the elk – react to beet juice? That’s all we need, more ways for our residents to get in touch with their wild side.

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