Magnesium chloride makers are trying to reverse Basalt decision
A company that makes a liquid deicer is trying to convince the Basalt Town Council it’s safe to lift a ban on its product and resume using it for winter maintenance of town streets.
Envirotech and its local distributor, Harry’s Heavy Haulers, have supplied information they believe will show the Town Council that magnesium chloride doesn’t pose a significant risk to the environment or people.
“I think everybody wants to be as environmentally friendly as they can,” said Roger Knoph, president of Envirotech Service Inc., of Kersey, Colo.
Knoph maintained that his company’s liquid deicer is a safe product when it is used correctly and applied in prescribed amounts. He acknowledged that magnesium chloride is “probably not” entirely benign for the environment, but said it is the best practical option for keeping roads safe in the winter.
Knoph further contended that use of magnesium chloride presents less of an environmental threat than traditional methods of winter maintenance, such as using sand and salt. Sand contributes to air and water quality problems.
Magnesium chloride has also proven significantly more effective in dealing with ice and snowpacked roads, he noted.
Envirotech supplies its liquid deicer to about 10 states. All of its products fall within standards set by Washington state, which set guidelines adopted by several other states, according to Harry Colborn, owner of Harry’s Heavy Haulers. His firm used to supply the town of Basalt with magnesium chloride and was hired to apply it as well.
The Basalt Town Council voted in November to stop using magnesium chloride on its streets because of unknown environmental consequences. The town unsuccessfully lobbied the Colorado Department of Transportation to stop using magnesium chloride within its boundaries.
The council’s ban on the liquid deicer is indefinite. Council members said they need time to find more answers to their environmental concerns.
Colborn teamed with Envirotech to try to supply some of those answers. They submitted an information packet to council members this week and tried to get on the agenda to address the board as soon as possible. The first available date was Feb. 23.
The information packet included a study performed for the city of Missoula, Mont., that concluded deicer use was safe at a specific level.
Other information included what appeared to be manufacturer specs on proper application of magnesium chloride, its effects on roadside vegetation and its chemical makeup.
Also included was e-mail between Knoph and a Washington state government official who Knoph called “the guru” of magnesium chloride use and safety. Knoph wrote guru Dale Keep asking if he had ever heard of toxic waste being dumped into the product.
Toxic-waste use was raised last year as a concern by Basalt Town Councilman Steve Solomon.
Keep wrote: “I know nothing about this, other than at one time a few years back arsenic and cyanide found its way into MgCl being sold by one of your competitors. Knowing this, and just simply wanting to know what we are getting, is why we test just to make sure it is not happening.”
Keep said the toxic-waste-laced magnesium chloride was used in Montana. “To my knowledge it has not been happening in the past few years,” he wrote.
Knoph said his company has never faced questions about toxic wastes before and he insisted his products contain none. He said his firm is willing to provide Basalt officials with whatever information it has to address their environmental concerns.
“We’re not trying to look for a battle here,” he stressed.
But Envirotech might be facing an uphill battle on convincing the board about the safety of its products.
After a review of Envirotech’s materials, Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said she still needs more answers.
“I thought it was marketing type information that didn’t give me any more information on whether it’s good or bad,” said Whitsitt. “The problem is we really don’t know what’s in it.”
Councilman Steve Solomon, who raised concerns about toxic wastes in magnesium chloride, said he needs proof that Envirotech knows what’s going on with its product from the sources to the time it is applied to roads.
He also questioned if enough is known about magnesium chloride to support Knoph’s claim that it is more environmentally sound than sanding.
Solomon said he would like to see the town of Basalt team with other local governments to find its own answers. He is currently looking for partners in such a study.
“Some people on the board feel this is a finished issue, since the board banned its use this winter,” Solomon said. “Others on the board say this is just the beginning of the issue.”
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