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State to road test new ice melter in county

December 04, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

The next time snow pelts Washington County, motorists on Interstate 81 might get a short break from slippery conditions.

State Highway Administration officials this winter will test a product called Ice Ban, whose distributor claims can dramatically cut the amount of rock salt the state will need.

When mixed with Ice Ban, the rock salt takes on a greenish hue. Other than that, drivers probably will not notice a difference, said Charles N. Bull, new products coordinator for the State Highway Administration.

"If this stuff works like the company says it does, drivers might have four to six miles of clean road before they get to a road that's not so clear," he said.

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The state has selected a stretch of Interstate 81 in Washington County and part of Interstate 270 in Montgomery County to test Ice Ban. Bull said officials picked places where the temperature is colder. They also wanted to test it on a straight, flat road, he said.

If it works, officials said they plan to expand it throughout the state next year. It could save the state money, reduce maintenance costs and improve the environment, they said.

Pennsylvania transportation officials also intend to test the product in a pilot program this winter. They said they will expand an anti-icing program that showed positive results last year.

Ice Ban, distributed by EastCo Services, a division of Castlebar Industries, is an agricultural byproduct used as a feed additive, company officials said. It is the concentrated liquid residue of the fermentation and industrial processing of agricultural products.

"They found that the snow melted whenever they put it down," said Lee Smith, a partner in the firm.

Initially, it resembles molasses in consistency. Magnesium chloride or liquid chloride is added to thin it, Smith said.

Smith said Ice Ban also can be applied to the road alone. Applied before a storm, it prevents snow and ice from sticking to the pavement. This makes is easier to plow and makes the highways safer, he said.

Bull said officials are encouraged by results from other states. To test its effectiveness, he said one side of I-81 will get Ice Ban and the other will get regular rock salt. Officials will compare the results in the spring.

"Is this stuff really that much better?" he said. "We're very hopeful that this is going to work for us."

The company touts several benefits:

- Ice Ban is more effective in colder weather. Smith said the effectiveness of rock salt drops dramatically in temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees. But Ice Ban freezes at minus 35 degrees, he said.

- By cutting the amount of rock salt by 50 percent, the state could save thousands of dollars. A gallon of Ice Ban costs $1.25, adding between $8 to $10 to the $30 cost of a ton of salt. But the state would save money if a ton of salt could go twice as far.

- Ice Ban causes no damage to the road or state trucks, Smith said. Bull said the state constantly has to repair and replace equipment because the salt is so corrosive.

Ice Ban could cut down on some of those expenses, Bull said.

"There are a lot of side costs that are tough to put a weight on," he said.

- Ice Ban is better for the environment, Smith said. It dissolves in rain and seeps harmlessly into the ground, he said.

By contrast, salt runoff has polluted ground water, Bull said. He said the state has drilled a number of new wells in Western Maryland to replace damaged water supplies.

Steve Chizmar, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the state enjoyed success last year by placing magnesium chloride on the roads before storms.

Although the method has been used in Western states for years, he said it is relatively novel in the East. And while it is not very effective in heavy snow, he said it has been effective in certain storms.

"It's another weapon. It's not for every storm. Whenever there is an ice storm or a light snow, this stuff works," Chizmar said.

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