Environmental Impacts of Potassium Acetate as a Road Salt Alternative (University of Minnesota evaluation)


John Gulliver, Chan Lan Chun, Peter Weiss, Andrew Erickson, William Herb, Jerry Henneck, Kathryn Cassidy

July 2022

Report no. MnDOT 2022-27A

Road salt (NaCl) is used predominantly across the state for winter road anti-icing (as brine) and de-icing (as a solid) operations. Road salt is used because it is inexpensive and effective, but the thousands of tons used annually have resulted in increasing chloride concentrations of surface water bodies throughout Minnesota. In many cases, chloride concentrations are above regulatory limits, which results in the loss of aquatic biota and the water body being labeled as impaired. Thus, there is a need for one or more road salt alternatives (RSAs) that are effective, relatively inexpensive, and environmentally friendly. This report investigates the environmental impacts of potassium acetate (Kac), which is effective at lower temperatures than most other potential RSAs and is also less corrosive to steel than conventional road salt. Field measurements indicate that current applications of KAc do not have a substantial influence on biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and microbiological water quality in Lake Superior. However, KAc concentrations due to application to 25% of the roads in the Miller Creek watershed are predicted to be above the toxic limit for water fleas. We believe that KAc could be used in the most precarious winter driving safety locations, but not over all watershed roads or for all storms. Acetate could be used as a general organic anti-icer, but in combination with another cation, such as sodium or magnesium.

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