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This Winter, Plows In One Quebec City Will Be Spreading Beet Extract

Ville de Laval
Ville de Laval will be experimenting with a mixture of salt and white beet extract this winter. The mixture works in colder temperatures, and cuts down on salt use. (Note: This photo is from last winter. Laval doesn't have snow yet either.)

We know salt helps keep icy roads safe, but the salt itself has some negative side effects on the environment – and our cars. In Quebec, the city of Laval is experimenting with a special, alternative additive: white beet extract.

The city will be spreading a mixture of beet extract and salt on its roads, which will both increase safety and reduce overall salt use, according to Sylvain Vaillancourt, Laval's superintendent of public works.

“Regular un-treated salt is not effective at a lower temperature,” Vaillancourt says. “So by using the … beet juice, the salt will be effective at cold temperatures, down to minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Vaillancourt estimates that the strategy will help the city cut its salt use by 30 to 40 percent.

Of course, the city hasn’t had the opportunity to try the mixture out yet; it hasn’t had any snow. “For now, it's stocked in our garage,” Vaillancourt says.

This won’t be the first time that Canadian roadways have been doused in beet juice. In 2012, several cities and municipalities experimented with a similar method – but they were using red beets, and the results were mixed. The mixture stained vehicles, clothing and stuck to people’s boots – and many complained about an unpleasant aroma of rotten vegetables.

“This year, with the new product,” Vaillancourt says,  “There's no odor … It doesn't stain, because the product is kind of a beige color.”

Vaillancourt says that if this year’s trial goes well, the city will use more next year.

“We'll see,” he says. “We'll try it, and I'll be able to tell you our satisfaction at the end of the year.”

Now, all Laval needs is some snow.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
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