Longtime local is fed up with mag chloride | AspenTimes.com
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Longtime local is fed up with mag chloride

Allyn Harvey

Twenty-year Aspen resident Judy Pearce is sick and tired of hearing that nothing can be done about magnesium chloride – so she trying to do something about it.

Pearce, a caterer and property manager who lives at the Aspen Airport Business Center, is circulating a petition that asks the Colorado Department of Transportation to “suspend its use of magnesium chloride as a de-icing solvent on all state highways and roads.”

Pearce said word about her drive has been slow to catch on over the last couple of weeks, but that’s starting to change. “I took a petition out to the Old Snowmass Conoco the day before yesterday, and it filled up with 70 signatures right away,” she said.

Magnesium chloride is a form of salt that is mined from the Great Salt Lake in Utah and combined with other chemicals and water. It is sprayed on road surfaces before, during and after snowstorms, and like any other salt, mag chloride helps to melt snow and ice.

For motorists, the difference between mag chloride and sodium chloride, commonly known as rock salt, is in the delivery – mag chloride is sprayed as a liquid, sodium chloride is combined with sand scattered across the road surface.

CDOT has been using mag chloride in increasing amounts for about six years; this winter, the agency expects to spray six million gallons of the stuff on roadways around the state this year.

Pearce says that she’s had severe headaches and been increasingly lethargic over the last four years, and she’s sure the cause is magnesium chloride.

“I’m sick and tired of being sick. I feel like I’m being poisoned,” she said. “I’m normally not a sickly person.”

The petition language reflects Pearce’s experience. After asking the state to suspend use of the liquid de-icer, it continues: “The basis of this request is our concern for public health and safety and the potential adverse consequences of the continued use of magnesium chloride, including, but not limited to, physical health problems such as chronic headaches, skin rashes, asthma, chronic coughs and flu symptoms.”

It goes on to cite some of the traffic safety issues that are commonly raised by motorists, including “decreased headlight and tail light illumination, inability to see road surface markings, and inability to distinguish between a wet or frozen road surface.”

CDOT officials maintain that mag chloride is the most cost-effective way to keep the state’s roads safe in winter. On Tuesday, several officials from CDOT met with the Pitkin County commissioners to discuss a number of issues, including the use of magnesium chloride.

“We’re always looking for the next product,” said Weldon Allen, the CDOT’s maintenance supervisor for this area. He said ever-increasing volumes of traffic necessitate the use of mag chloride.

Doug Aden, chairman of the state transportation commission that oversees CDOT, said that other liquid deicers are not really alternatives because they are too expensive.

Three towns in the valley, Aspen, Basalt and Snowmass Village, have all discontinued use of magnesium chloride in recent years, citing a variety of reasons for using other substances.

Snowmass Village and the Roaring Fork Transit Agency have documented evidence of increased mechanical and electrical breakdowns with components exposed to large quantities of magnesium chloride.

For Pearce, however, the matter is more personal than a broken lift or an overheated bus cabin, because it’s a matter of health. “I’m hoping to get thousands of signatures and send them to CDOT and my state representative,” she said.

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