Advertisement

Why a Wisconsin county is dumping cheese brine on its roads this winter

A runner makes her way down a snowy street doing errends in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison and the surrounding area has been hit with about 15-18 inches of snow with more snow to come.
Wisconsin frequently has to deal with severe winter storms, which necessitates them clearing the ground for traffic and people.Andy Manis / Stringer/Getty Images
  • People often salt slippery, winter roads to melt ice, making it safer to drive and walk on.

  • Some counties in Wisconsin have been using cheese brine or a beet juice blend instead.

  • Locals say these alternative methods are safer for the environment and, in some cases, cheaper.

People from Wisconsin are sometimes called Cheeseheads. Because of the way some state counties beat icy streets, we might propose calling their highways Cheese-roads.

A few counties across the state have used cheese brine to melt icy roads in the winter. Other tricks, like using beet juice, beer waste, or pickle brine, have been employed across the upper Midwest.

Though road salt, the traditional de-icer, is effective, it has its problems, Andrea Bill, the associate director of the University of Wisconsin's Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory, told Business Insider.

The road salt, "keeps getting more and more expensive," which makes it harder for states to purchase, Bill explained. Add to that, excess salt can damage roads, pollute groundwater, and wreak havoc on local marine life.

So in the case where salt might not always be the best solution, cheese brine could be another weapon in Wisconsin's winter arsenal.

The problems with traditional road salting

: A worker salting streets as snowfall blankets the Times Square in New York City, United States as massive snow storm hits the east coast.
Salting the roads is a common practice to melt ice both before, during, and after a winter storm.Anadolu/Contributor/Getty Images

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the most common type of salt used on roads is the same salt on your dinner table — sodium chloride. In small amounts, it's relatively harmless.

However, excessive use of salt on the roads can seep into groundwater when the snow melts. Many people get their drinking water from the ground, and drinking salty water can affect people with high blood pressure, according to the EPA.

If the snowmelt doesn't go into groundwater, it may run off towards local rivers or ponds where it increases salinity, which may be toxic to marine life, according to the University of Minnesota.

Outside of the environmental concerns, salt can wear down roads and bridges, according to the EPA. The agency estimated that salting roads may result in as much as $5 billion dollars in annual repairs in the US.

There's also the issue of upfront costs. Since cheese brine is a waste product that wouldn't otherwise be used for any purpose, counties usually get it for free and only have to pay to transport it, Chris Narveson, the highway commissioner for Green County, told BI.

It costs Green County around $2.80 to $4.20 per mile to use cheese brine on its roads, whereas it costs more than ten times that amount — $15 to $25 per mile — to use rock salt, Narveson estimated.

Green County is lucky enough to have a functioning cheese factory where it gets its cheese brine for de-icing. Other counties, like Polk County and Burnett County, have used cheese brine in the past but stopped when the local cheese factory halted operations.

Photo shows hand made production of graviera a hard yellowish Cretan cheese matured in brine in Greece.
Many types of cheese have to sit in a salty water mixture in order to mature. It makes a briny waste product.Bastian Parschau/Contributor/Getty Images

If you don't have access to cheese brine, then beet juice is a popular alternative, though it's not as cost-effective as cheese brine, Josh Kelch, the highway commissioner for Burnett County, told BI.

Sauk County has used a beet juice blend in years past, Pat Gavinski, the highway commissioner for Sauk County, told BI. He said that, anecdotally, it keeps roads clear a little longer than rock salt. "The traffic doesn't wear it off as quick, that's why we like it," Gavinski said.

While these alternative methods may be more environmentally friendly, Bill said her main concern about these methods is that there might not be enough of these byproducts to combat the amount of snow and ice these regions get each year.

Bill is studying other types of brine, just made of pure water and salt, as alternative methods for ice management.

Read the original article on Business Insider