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Road salt usage proves helpful yet costly

Dave Meeder, Butler Township director of public works, is surrounded by the township's road salt stock. Steve Cukovich/Butler Eagle

Butler Township has used between 1,500 tons and 3,900 tons of road salt each year over the past six years, according to Dave Meeder, the township’s director of public works.

For the upcoming winter season, Butler Township will pay $85.78 per ton, Meeder said, a cost that’s up from $79.05 per ton last season, when the township used 1,506 tons of salt.

"It varies with winter on how much we use,“ Meeder said. ”We try to sit on about 3,000 tons. As that goes down, we will replenish though the winter as needed."

The township tries its best to not pretreat the roads before a winter storm, but with Western Pennsylvania weather, things tend to change quickly, he said.

"We get a call from our police as conditions start to get worse,“ Meeder said. ”Then I'll send the crews out."

“You're taking that risk if it stays rain longer before it freezes,” Meeder added. “It's going to wash a lot of it off."

Rick Fennell rustproofs a truck at his shop in Summit Township in 2018. Butler Eagle File Photo
Rust damage

On one hand, the salt helps keep roads safe during harsh winter months, but on the flip side, it can cause rust damage on the underbody of vehicles.

For 50 years, Rick Fennell, owner of Rick Fennell Rustproofing in Summit Township, has been helping prolong the life of vehicles with his rustproofing services.

"If it’s a used vehicle, we clean the under body and get it dry,“ Fennell said. ”Then we proceed to do the inside of the body panels. Then we undercoat because of what they are putting on the roads today. We coat everything but the motor, transmission and above the exhaust."

All salt will end up corroding metal, Fennell said, but liquid brine chemicals used by some municipalities and PennDOT are mixed with road salt. These chemicals end up doing a better job at melting ice and snow, but the vehicles on the road will end up rusting much faster, he said.

“(Brine) eats up anything that's metal,” Fennell said. “It’s what they mix up. It does far more damage, and it’s hard to describe how corrosive it is. It’s actually gotten worse. It attacks the underbody more so than the inner body panels.”

Fennell said he coats the underbody of cars using a chemical mix that is grease and oil based.

The process takes between four to six hours to do one car, Fennell said, as he tries to cover all the points underneath that could come into contact with road salt.

"It's what we've done since we started,“ Fennell said. ”The proof is in the results. It's superior to the rustproofing of many years ago that were asphalt-based or tar."

Fennell said the cost to rustproof a vehicle could run between $625 and $950, which would be far less than the potential cost of repairing the damage once it’s already done.

“Rust repairs are extremely expensive,” Fennell said. “Sometimes the repairs exceed the value of the vehicle."

Fennell said he sells a version of the chemicals he uses to undercoat cars in a product called “Rick Fennell Undercoating Aerosol” which can be found at local NAPA stores and certain stores outside Butler County, he said.

Car owners can maintain their car’s coating by using the product.

When it comes to those harsh brine chemicals, Meeder said the township does not use road salt mixed with brine chemicals.

“Salt is corrosive as it is, but ... maybe other municipalities are adding that brine to it which causes metal to rust even more,” Meeder said.

According to Dave Meeder, Butler Township's director of public works, the township will pay $85.78 per ton for salt this coming winter, up from $79.05 per ton last season. Steve Cukovich/Butler Eagle
According to Dave Meeder, Butler Township's director of public works, the township will pay $85.78 per ton of salt this coming winter, up from $79.05 per ton last season. Steve Cukovich/Butler Eagle
Rick Fennell rustproofs a truck at his shop in Summit Township in 2018. Butler Eagle File Photo

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