Candidates voice mixed views on mag chloride use
This is the fifth part in an ongoing series of articles in which The Aspen Times seeks comment on various issues from candidates for city office.
We are asking the candidates one question per day and will print their brief answers. Four candidates are seeking election as Aspen’s next mayor and six are vying for two City Council seats. The election is May 4.
How do you feel about the city using magnesium chloride on the streets when no studies have been completed that prove the stuff is harmless? Jake Vickery, City Council It’s important that the streets are safe for both drivers and pedestrians. However, I’m reluctant to continue the use of magnesium chloride until it’s proven to be reasonably safe.More aggressive snowplowing is part of the solution. We need to use gravel and sand on dangerous crossings, which has the negative effect of creating additional dust and PM10. In order to deal with that, we need to clean and wash the streets more frequently. Tony Hershey, City Council I am uncomfortable with the premise of the question. I am not sure that magnesium chloride has been proven unsafe. As an attorney and a City Council candidate, I don’t think it is my place to judge the safety of this product. That is for scientists, doctors and other experts to determine.What I do know is that Jack Reid, the superintendent of streets for Aspen, has said he has not had problems with the product. In fact, he says it works very well as long as it is used in moderation and properly supervised.I would hate for a knee-jerk reaction to eliminate a useful product from the market. If magnesium chloride is dangerous to people or the environment, of course we should not use it. However, if it, or a similar product, is proven safe, I can think of nothing more important than keeping our citizens and visitors safe on our icy and snowy streets. Tim Semrau, City Council Obviously the city should not use any substance that might be harmful to its citizens in the long run. Prior to next snow season, City Council should review all information relating to mag chloride and be sure it has no harmful effects before committing to using it next winter. Bruce Meyer, City Council To my understanding, a recent report on mag chloride showed there was arsenic and other toxins in it. Before its continued use, I encourage that we look at a report or study to make sure that there’s no danger to humans, wildlife or the possible pollution of our water supply. We know that sand and gravel add a tremendous amount of pollution to our air. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m sure there is one out there. Roger Haneman, City Council I am sure the streets department has some confidence in magnesium chloride, or they would not have begun using it in the first place. However, when so many members of the community do not trust a product, it is only appropriate that we stop using it until we can verify that it is not a health hazard. Sanding the roads isn’t healthy, but it may be more desirable to stick with the devil you know than the devil you don’t. No official would want to be responsible for poisoning his own town. Tom McCabe, City Council I’m not worried about magnesium chloride being “harmless.” None of the other methods we used were “harmless” either. Very few things in this world are “harmless.” Each is a problem in its own way. Each saved lives. Breathing in PM10, or constantly having to replace windshields, headlights, radiators and continually having our automobiles’ paint jobs sandblasted was not any fun either. Yet if we don’t put something on roads, many more of us will die at the hands of a careless driver.So unless magnesium chloride is proven to cause some kind of a major malfunction to our bodies or to the environment, I suppose I’d rather take a chance with it rather than take a chance with an unintended vehicular conjunction.As an EMT, I responded to a fair number of fatal automobile crashes, and I suppose that experience somehow makes scraping magnesium chloride off my car or replacing a windshield more tolerable. Helen Klanderud, mayor I don’t approve of it. I think we should know what we’re putting on the streets. I think if we’re going to use chemicals, we should have a good understanding of what effects they could have on people, or what effects they could have on the natural environment. Rachel Richards, mayor During the 1980s, Aspen had some of the worst air quality of resorts in Colorado. PM10 pollution is a documented health hazard. The city and many other communities began using mag chloride to reduce sanding and clean up the air. As new information about potential hazards of mag chloride has come to light, I can no longer sanction its use in the city.I am committed to doing whatever is necessary in terms of increased plowing and street sweeping to keep our roads safe for pedestrians and motorists and keep our air clean.Through the Colorado Association of Ski Towns, I am working with the Colorado Department of Transportation on a comprehensive study about the effects of mag chloride on humans, wildlife, vegetation and the environment.We are soliciting interest from other groups such as the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the American Lung Association, etc. Bill Stirling, mayor Snow should be plowed, but never battled by chemical warfare. When I was mayor, we took over winter maintenance of Main Street, part of Highway 82, in order to reduce environmental problems and PM10. We can’t expect dry roads. In the winter we all have to drive, if we must, slowly. Eliminate urban-sized buses in town, in favor of small, less-polluting, frequent ones. We are, after all, a ski town, and snow is both welcome and beautiful. Michael O’Sullivan, mayor The trade-off between mag chloride and PM10 is a tough one. We know PM10 kills people, and the jury is still out on magnesium chloride. I support the city’s current mix of sanding and magnesium chloride, and I would like to see magnesium chloride acetate investigated as an alternative to mag chloride with more emphasis in the short term (until the studies are in) on sanding.Our streets department does an excellent job of putting it down and taking it up, which has been reflected in lower PM10 levels in the last decade. All modes of winter transportation (bus, car, pedestrian) need the city’s support. I don’t subscribe to the idea of just letting the snow pile up.
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