Bulk salt is a stable in winter snow and ice control. Recent studies have examined the real cost of salt use for winter maintenance. Here we reference a presentation for the Road Salt Symposium by Carolyn Dindorf of Fortin Consulting, Inc. The study focused on data from Minnesota’s Government and Private costs via St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. It cites the direct costs of salt, averaging $73 per ton at the time and $150 per ton at the time including equipment and labor costs.
The real issues arise when factoring in the INDIRECT costs of salt use; Damage to infrastructure, vehicle corrosion, damage to vegetation, contaminated ground water, surface water impacts. Some costs that aren’t calculated are; damage to flooring and or sod replacement and landscaping damage. Unknown costs also include; sodium consumed unintentionally by humans, wildlife toxicity, aquatic life toxicity, soil structure damage.
The actual damage costs calculated include the LOW estimate of $800 per ton of salt applied and a HIGH estimate of $3300 per ton of salt applied. The city of Aurora, IL uses on average, 15,000 tons of salt. Multiplied out at $800 of damage per ton you get damage costs of $12,000,000 for Aurora, IL alone!
So what is the answer? Well stopping the use of bulk salt is not a possible solution, but reducing the amount applied and using alternative methods that have a lower impact on the environment like liquid deicer and liquid anti-icers is a great start for the overall well being of our communities.