by Richard L. Hanneman
A Response to Ray's Salt Rant . . .
President, Salt Institute
Raymond Magliozzi's piece on sodium chloride is so off-base I question whether a response is warranted. But, okay, a short one.
1) Salt can contribute to corrosion and can threaten ground water, granted. It also DOES contribute to safer roads, with fewer accidents, injuries, and deaths and a viable economy during winter months. Traffic crashes are cut 85 percent when salt is applied, and 88.3 percent of injury crashes are avoided altogether (no, sand and cinders don't do that well!). Standard & Poor's DRI estimated that the cost to eastern states in the blizzard of 1996 exceeded $10 BILLION in lost economic production and $7 BILLION in lost retail sales. Economists at First Union Corp. put the DAILY cost for a "nor'easter" at $5 BILLION A DAY. See our Web site.
2) Cinders are NOT an alternative. They provide, at best, temporary traction; they are filthy, leaving roads messy and requiring expensive cleanup (ergo, they are not "free")--our roads are inappropriate disposal sites for industrial waste. Several states have amended their State Implementation Plans under the Clean Air Act to switch from abrasives to straight salt to avoid the airborne particulates created by using abrasives on winter roads, because the particles are a costly public health hazard by lodging themselves in people's lungs.
3) Cars are NOT being damaged extensively by salt. Oh, they certainly WERE, but not anymore. NACE International (formerly the National Association of Corrosion Engineers) has studied car rust damage for many years. In 1976, 95 percent of six-year-old cars were damaged. Today, less than 1 percent are damaged. Some manufacturers now have 10-year warranties against rust.
4) Drinking water is often drawn from underground wells, and shallow wells, in the past, have been constructed near roadways and have been salt-contaminated. It CAN happen. But not too much nowadays. In fact, the chloride standard for taste is 250 ppm--and no Massachusetts community comes close. Note: There is no health standard for salt (except a minimum required for good health), and the "fact that it raises your blood pressure and increases your chances of having a heart attack" is not only controversial among medical experts--but all available evidence shows that LOW-sodium diets, if they have a heart-attack-risk impact at all, actually INCREASE the rate of heart attacks.
5) Calcium chloride is a viable alternative to sodium chloride as an ice-melting agent. As pointed out, it costs more, but there are times [when] it is a proper choice--but NOT because it contributes less chloride to the environment.
6) Mr. Magliozzi is right on one important point, however. "Salt should not be used indiscriminately." We doubt it is--it is a costly item in municipal budgets. We train our customers how to put down the minimum amounts of salt to keep roads safe and passable--and no more). See our Web site.
Richard L. Hanneman