Sea Dust, pt 1

On January 21, Thomas L. Viola was charged with the theft of some 135 tons of road salt in Aurora, Illinois. Viola had (intentionally) sold the road salt, which did not belong to him, on October 1 at the bargain price of $9000 (US). He was caught and the salt was recovered / found in a warehouse. Now while the headline "Man Charged With Theft Of 135 Tons Of Road Salt" is certainly more eye-catching than the reality of selling goods that are not your own as thieving, we were struck more with the commodity worthy of such a heist. About 50% of industrialized salt production is used in cold-climate regions for de-icing. Along with that massive seasonally dependent harvest, is the need to store salt (or sand) in a distributed fashion and at a municipal level. Like little salt banks or mail drop-off boxes, salt facilities dot the highway landscape. These often conical containers are perfectly formed to the angle of repose of salt mounds. In a strange twist, the containers are protecting the salt from the weather, while the salt, once dispersed, protects us from the weather.

Toronto, for example, uses about 130,000 - 150,000 tonnes of salt annually with 200 salting trucks to address 130cm of annual snowfall. And Montreal spends about $135 million annually to address its 217cm snowfall. Industrial salt production is a massive enterprise of which less than 10% is for use in de-icing.

The US and China produce about 40% of total world salt production, which globally was about 250 million tons in 2006.

Following a heavy winter last year, many municipalities stocked up on road salt early this year. This drove prices up, and it has created the need for more innovative thinking in terms of ice-melting. One case in point is geomelt, which Chicago is considering. But other options have included garlic salt.

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