Public meeting to eature mag chloride expert | AspenTimes.com

Public meeting to eature mag chloride expert

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Dr. William Lewis, one of the nation’s foremost experts on magnesium chloride, Colorado’s favorite substance for clearing its roadways of ice, will be in town on Tuesday, April 2.

The University of Colorado professor will meet with the public and elected officials from the mid and upper valley at noon in the Sister Cities Room in the basement of Aspen City Hall. Elected officials from Basalt, Snowmass Village, Aspen and Pitkin County are expected to attend.

The meeting will likely include a presentation by Lewis and a question-and-answer session with the elected officials and the public.

“It’s more or less for people to bring their concerns and questions about magnesium chloride,” Dr. Lewis said. “I’ll bring information and we’ll have a public airing.”

Lewis is a professor of environmental science and director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Limnology. Limnology is the study of inland waters, lakes and streams. He has conducted three studies on magnesium chloride for the Colorado Department of Transportation, including an analysis of its effects on aquatic life.

Lewis was invited here by Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s director of public works. Pettet said he hoped the visit would answer people’s questions and clear up some of the misinformation about the product.

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Pettet said he’s found that people are misinformed about the contents of magnesium chloride, particularly the concentrations of heavy metals. He and others in the road-clearing business readily admit that when mag chloride first showed up in Colorado in the mid-1990s, it contained unacceptable levels of the heavy metals arsenic and cadmium, both of which can increase the risk of some cancers. But they maintain that the mag chloride used today is safe.

The first study Lewis performed for CDOT was a study of the literature on magnesium chloride in the mid-1990s. Lewis said there was little to report on at that time.

Next, Lewis conducted a field study of its effects on aquatic ecosystems. Lewis analyzed mag chloride’s impacts on aquatic life in streams and drainages near highways where it was being used by comparing it with aquatic life in areas where mag chloride wasn’t in use.

“It’s possible for magnesium chloride to have contaminants that are not acceptable for transfer [into the water],” Lewis said. “It’s also possible to require vendors to eliminate those contaminants, and once that is done there is very little reason for objecting to its use.”

More recently, Lewis studied the possibility of using an alternative to the mix of magnesium chloride and de-icing agents that CDOT is currently employing.

Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland, a mag chloride skeptic, said he is looking forward to hearing Lewis speak on the subject. Ireland is scheduled to discuss CDOT’s use of mag chloride with the state transportation advisory committee in Denver on April 5. The advisory committee is an important venue in the hierarchy of decision making at CDOT.

“I want other people to have an idea of what CDOT’s position is,” Ireland said. “This will help when I go to Denver; it gives me a starting point.”