Opinion: Yellow snow, beet juice and other methods of snow removal


The salt trucks are busy, dozens of them weaving through our streets scattering rock salt for our driving safety. As a result, all our cars have taken on a grayish patina and our windshields are streaked with an opaque film that won’t completely disappear until sometime around Arbor Day.

A certain amount of these chlorides also wind up in our lakes, rivers and ground water, a fact that worries some environmentalists and members of the Anti-Salt League. This has led to alternative methods for snow removal.

In Minnesota, where I used to live and where it can snow nine months of the year, someone developed a substance made from ground-up corn cobs. It was effective, non-toxic and non-corrosive.

Unfortunately, it also turned the snow yellow, which prompted rock musician Frank Zappa to pen the song, “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” Actually, the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation had already put out signs to that effect.

This, of course, reportedly sparked debate in the state legislature regarding the dangers of eating yellow snow. Some argued that since many of the corn cobs came from Green Giant after they had harvested Nibblets corn, the yellow snow could, in fact, be nutritious.

Somewhere along the way, the FDA probably weighed in, along with the EPA and maybe even the CIA. Wishing to avoid further controversy, state leaders quickly decided to ban the use of corn cobs for snow removal and return to salt. I don’t know if that is exactly how it happened, but suddenly there was no more yellow snow in Minnesota. Frank Zappa’s song, however, continued to be a musical staple for some time.

Never to be defeated, however, environmentally minded scientists and salt barn managers have come up with other alternatives to chloride. The newest and greatest of these is beet juice.

In Wisconsin, several county DOTs are mixing beet juice with cheese brine, the salty residue left over from making cheese. Apparently, the sugar from beets and the salt from cheese work together to melt snow and ice. Indiana apparently is doing the same, although I’m not sure how big our cheese-making industry might be.

For home use, we are cautioned that rock salt can damage plants like azaleas. This leaves us the traditional snow shovel, snow blower, or for extremely long driveways, the snow plow. Plus, for those who like to be on the cutting edge of things, there are electric heating mats that can be installed beneath your driveway.  For those who can’t decide, there is always Florida.

By the way, Arbor Day is in April.