There’s a potential solution to US road salt shortages and it is cheese

Pass the salt.
Pass the salt.
Image: Reuters/Christian Charisius
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Cities across the US are struggling to meet local demand for salt amidst a stretch of unusually cold weather and slew of winter storms. 

The latest onslaught, winter storm Nika, had left parts of New York with as much as a quarter inch-thick sheet of ice early today, according to the National Weather Service. And the icy coating could be around for a while, thanks to the state’s thinning salt supplies. “The shortage of salt is a complicating factor,” governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters in a press conference earlier today.

Other states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and others, are facing similar plights. An extra 50,000 tons of de-icing salt were shipped into Wisconsin earlier today. The city of Milwaukee used more salt over the past week than it typically does over the course of an entire winter season. By the end of last month, Pennsylvania had already used 200,000 tons more salt than it normally does over the course of a year.

Last minute purchases are popping up all over the place, which can be pricey. Bulk salt prices, paid in advance of the winter season, run closer to $50 a ton, but last minute buys can run twice, three times, and perhaps even four times that, Tom Breier, the general manager of Ice Melt Chicago, told the Associated Press.

The US imports a good deal of the salt it uses to coat its streets. At 12 million tons per year, America is the biggest salt importer in the world. Most salt imports come from Canada and Chile, which means a little extra salt sometimes has to travel a long way.

But instead of succumbing to a Hoth-like existence of perpetually ice-covered streets and sidewalks, towns and cities could get resourceful about their preventative ice measures. For instance, America’s Dairyland has experimented with other options such as cheese brine and other dairy waste products, the New York Times reported in December.

“You want to use provolone or mozzarella,” said Jeffrey A. Tews, the fleet operations manager for the public works department, which has thrice spread the cheesy substance in Bay View, a neighborhood on Milwaukee’s south side. “Those have the best salt content. You have to do practically nothing to it.”