City ready to reduce use of mag chloride |

City ready to reduce use of mag chloride

John Colson

Aspen officials are readying plans to drastically cut back on the use of the de-icing agent magnesium chloride in the wake of recent revelations that it contains toxic chemical compounds.

But the “experiment” in reducing use of the controversial agent will not begin for 10 days to a couple of weeks, said Assistant City Manager Steve Barwick on Monday.

In the meantime, two city councilmen announced Monday that they might support the complete discontinuance of use of “mag chlor,” as it is commonly known.

Barwick, speaking at the council’s informal brown-bag luncheon meeting, said the details are still being worked out by City Manager Amy Margerum, adding that “we’re not ready to release [the plan] yet.”

Barwick was answering critical questions and comments from the only two council members present as the lunchtime meeting began – Jake Vickery and Terry Paulson – who both expressed their unhappiness with the city’s continued use of mag chlor.

“I don’t want our town to end up being a guinea pig,” declared Vickery, referring to recently published accounts of state tests on the de-icer and its effects on the environment.

“We’ve been having work sessions for the last three or four years on this,” added Paulson. “I just think it’s time to do something.”

It was revealed in local news stories last month that the Colorado Department of Transportation has uncovered the presence of heavy metals and toxic compounds in the de-icer. The discovery has led to a directive from CDOT to its suppliers that they must reduce the levels of such substances as copper, lead, zinc, arsenic and cadmium.

Pedestrians and bicyclists also have complained about the substance, contending it makes walking or riding around town more difficult and sometimes even hazardous.

The use of mag chlor has been increasing statewide over the past four years, since shortly after Aspen began using it on heavily driven city streets.

City streets superintendent Jack Reid reported last week that his department has cut back on the use of mag chlor already, from around 30,000 gallons in 1994 to roughly 18,400 gallons last winter. His department now uses it on Main Street, bus routes and at major intersections, Reid said.

Neither Reid nor Margerum was available for comment Monday afternoon.

At the luncheon meeting, Paulson advocated the immediate cessation of any use of mag chlor on city streets. He also wondered aloud “why we have to wait for a book to come out for everyone to get excited” about what he said is a generalized “gut feeling that there’s something wrong with these chemicals.”

Vickery, noting that he is worried that the de-icer could be harming humans, animals and the environment in general, said at one point, “I would support banning magnesium chloride in Aspen.”

He added, however, that it may be necessary and acceptable to continue using the substance on Main Street. He said Main Street is “one isolated area” and noted that the city cannot merely resume using sand and gravel everywhere, as that approach contributes to Aspen’s air pollution problems.

It was also suggested that the city might overcome the need to use chemical de-icers by requiring cars to be equipped with studded snow tires.

City Attorney John Worcester said Councilwoman Rachel Richards has asked city staffers to check into the feasibility of requiring local rental car agencies to put studded snow tires on their rental cars.

“How much uproar from the community would we have?” due to the enactment of such a policy, asked Paulson.

“You’re the politician,” replied Worcester with a smile.

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