Brine on NJ roads: Helpful, but it can harm land and vehicles
Countless times over the next few months, crews across New Jersey will apply brine to roadways in preparation for any impending snowstorms.
The liquid de-icer, in many cases, is preferred over rock salt because it's more likely to stay and work where it lands, creating a safer path for motorists.
But do the benefits outweigh the potential negative impacts?
Similar to salt, de-icing materials such as brine have their downsides for both motorists and the land.
Excessive use of de-icers can be environmentally detrimental "due to increasing sediment loads and soluble materials entering surface and ground water," according to a guidance document for municipalities from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"The excessive use of de-icers may adversely affect roadside vegetation, pollute waterways and/or groundwater, as well as adversely affect aquatic life," the document reads.
But, DEP says, the short-term need for clear, safe winter roadways outweighs the environmental impacts.
In the document, the DEP says it promotes the smart use of salt and other de-icing materials. Calibrated spreaders are an effective tool in preventing over-application.
There are newer de-icing materials that are more environmentally friendly, the document notes. In some instances, the costs of these new materials are prohibitive on a large-scale basis.
Beyond environmental impacts, brine also creates a problem for New Jersey car and truck owners that motorists in other parts of the country don't necessarily encounter.
"Not only does brine stick to the road better; it sticks to your car better," said Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store & Automotive Association.
And the underbelly of one's vehicle, he says, is at risk of corrosion if the salty material isn't washed away every once in a while. Brine can access nooks and crannies that rock salt can not.
"Fuel lines, brakes lines, exhaust system — they are all going to be subject to corrosion," Risalvato said.
The problems won't be realized a week or two after driving over brine-packed roads. Down the line, unrelated vehicle issues turn into much bigger problems because of corroded metals.
"If there is a brine solution that's spread on the road and then adheres to your car, it is best to have it removed as quickly as possible," Risalvato said, noting car washes may ask for a few extra bucks to flush away salt from a car's undercarriage.
The state Department of Transportation used about 2 million gallons of brine during the 2017-2018 winter season. DOT spent a total of $92.5 million to fight storms.