Salt right, and you just might save the world.

The Village of Oak Park has shifted its salting practices this winter, using less salt, sticking to main streets, while also applying a beet juice mixture on brick streets. While too much snow and not enough salt has principally driven the change, the village is also considering salt’s impact on the environment.

Salt harms plants by breaking down their cell structure. Plants can only process so much salt before it becomes harmful to them, Warren King, a green advocate and anti-ice distributor said.

Leafy plants are most susceptible to damage from salts and chlorides. The products also get into sewers and, eventually, into our rivers and lakes.

“It’s a cause for concern in a lot of different communities,” King said. “They all end up somewhere else and aren’t very effectively filtered out of water treatment systems.”

King lives in Oak Park and is on the board of directors for Seven Generations Ahead and Sustain, two Oak Park-based non-profits concerned with sustainability. He has operated his own company-WellSpring Management, which distributes a beet juice-salt mix-since 2004. Called Geomelt, the secret mixture includes a beet juice derivative and some chloride.

“It’s not the beets out of your garden; it’s a sugar beat,” King said.

King distributes the product to municipalities (including Oak Park), universities, and businesses. It won’t be available to the general public until next winter.

With less chloride, Geomelt is easier on the environment, King says. It’s “virtually harmless” to trees and plants and doesn’t require special handling. It also melts ice at a lower temperature than your typical road salt.

Oak Park uses a liquid beet juice mix on its brick streets and rock salt coated with beet juice on its parking garages, said Public Works Director John Wielebnicki. Not to worry, proponents say-the product does not stain roads red. The village has also been forced to mix salt with sand, but King advises against that.

Sand gets in sewers, causes blockage, and can be hard to remove. But the practice has been necessitated by this winter’s relentless snowfalls and salt-pile shortfalls.

King said in the last five years, municipalities have become more aware of how salts and chlorides harm the environment, especially when used in large amounts. He believes the practice of over-salting roads “at any cost” dates back to a huge snowstorm that paralyzed Chicago in 1979.

As with other green practices, Geomelt is initially more expensive than salt alone. But less is required and a consumer spends less money in the long run, King said.

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

Green ‘nuts and bolts’

In addition to Geomelt, Oak Park is adopting other routine, nuts and bolts tasks in a green fashion, according to Solid Waste Coordinator Karen Rozmus. Some examples:

  • Switching traffic lights to LEDs, which save energy and last longer
  • Also switching emergency lights in police cars and public works vehicles to LED
  • Using environmentally friendly products for cleaning
  • Implementing gas-powered leafblower restrictions
  • Exploring energy-efficient street lighting
  • Encouraging car-free Sundays

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