County to ask CDOT to stop using chemical |

County to ask CDOT to stop using chemical

BRECKENRIDGE – Summit County commissioners said Tuesday they plan to ask the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to stop using magnesium chloride on Interstate 70 as a method of snow and ice removal.

“The bottom line is the citizens of Summit County hate mag chloride,” commissioner Gary Lindstrom said at a meeting with CDOT and town officials from throughout the county. “They have asked us to ask you to stop using it.”

But Jeff Kullman, regional transportation director for CDOT’s Region 1, said he will continue to use the de-icer regardless of what commissioners ask of him.

“It’s not a democratic issue,” he said. “The safety of Interstate 70 is beyond the purview of Summit County. If they do ask, I’ll be concerned. We’ll need to do some more education up here.”

Commissioners weren’t sold on CDOT’s mag chloride presentation Tuesday, however.

CDOT began using mag chloride in 1995 as an alternative to sand mixed with rock salt. Towns in Summit County soon joined CDOT, but recently, Silverthorne, the county and Frisco have stopped using the chemical. Last week, the Breckenridge town council discussed the issue with public works officials and decided to continue using it. After hearing a presentation on mag chloride Tuesday, however, council members might discuss the topic again at a future meeting.

According to Ed Fink, the state maintenance superintendent for CDOT, increased traffic on the interstate prompted transportation officials to switch to mag chloride. Sand, while providing good traction for cars, contributes to air and water pollution, and highway workers must apply it continuously throughout storms.

In the winter of 1994-95, CDOT had to shut down I-70 42 times during snowstorms. When they started using mag chloride the following year, there were only 17 major road closures, he said.

The complaints began soon thereafter, with drivers complaining about the sticky chemical on their windshields. Seven years later, they’re complaining about corroded car parts.

Fink admitted the chemical does corrode metal – but not nearly as badly as sodium chloride. He also acknowledged that using mag chloride is a trade-off. The de-icer, he noted, causes substantially less air and water pollution than sand.

“Mag chloride has some side effects we wish weren’t there,” Fink said. “But anything we use is going to have side effects.”

Lindstrom said he has piles of studies about the product, and none of them agree. Commissioner Bill Wallace said he’s concerned about the long-term ramifications on people’s health.

Fink, however, said CDOT’s mission is to provide safe transportation for drivers.

“That’s critical to interstate commerce,” he said. “It’s critical to national defense. It’s critical to businesses. We are convinced – absolutely convinced – that in spite of the corrosion, we are providing the best and safest transportation experience we can.”

CDOT has conducted numerous tests of the chemical, including how corrosive it is on various metals, its effects on the environment and the ramifications of the toxic chemicals – arsenic, mercury, lead, cyanide and cadmium – used in the mixture.

Fink said CDOT ran air quality tests in Aspen that showed no increase in toxic chemicals after mag chloride was applied to roadways.

Other alternatives aren’t viable, Fink said. Organic compounds are expensive and absorb oxygen in waterways. Other chemical de-icers are even more corrosive than mag chloride.

Dillon Town Manager Jack Benson said his top concern is the quality of water in Straight Creek, from which the town gets its water. Work is under way to remove 20 years worth of sand that’s been deposited on the interstate and washed into the creek. The switch from sand to mag chloride can only help, he said.

“We all remember the brown cloud,” Fink said of the infamous haze that loomed over Denver in the 1980s. “It’s gone. It’s gone because of mag chloride. We’re using half the sand we were using in 1989. We can never go back.”

But that’s exactly what Wallace wants the state to do.

“We have to go back to making sure people have proper tires,” he said. “And the Legislature needs to impose heavy fines for people involved in accidents who are found to not have proper tires on their cars.”

It’s only common sense, he said.

“If you came here from Florida, would you expect your Florida clothes to get you through a Summit County winter?” he said. “Then why don’t you outfit your car with proper car parts?

“I don’t refute its effectiveness,” he added. “But we need to back up. We need to have chain inspections again. Putting down stuff that chews up your car so you don’t have to buy good tires and so you can go fast is not the way to go.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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