WINTER MAINTENANCE: Engrained in mind

Feb. 6, 2012

The field of public health has many goals to address regarding community health concerns, with the overriding strategic aim being prevention of major health issues as opposed to simply treating populations after they become ill.

The field of public health has many goals to address regarding community health concerns, with the overriding strategic aim being prevention of major health issues as opposed to simply treating populations after they become ill.
It is always easier (and more cost effective) to prevent a problem than to have to treat or correct a problem. Environmental health looks at the built and natural environment in which we live and how interaction with those surroundings impact community health. Environmental hazards must be mitigated in air quality, food protection, solid waste management, water quality and vector control, to name a few. So while it did not seem a likely instigator, Tazewell County Health Department (TCHD) sought out an alliance to bring winter-maintenance courses to central Illinois.  
McHenry County Water Resource department and the McHenry County Division of Transportation had already established a Winter Snow and Ice Operators Seminar with an emphasis on chloride reduction in the ground water; TCHD simply sought to replicate it. Referencing Illinois State Water Survey data, similar trends in the rise of chloride levels in shallow wells (200 ft or less) were seen in the regional area of Peoria, Ill., as well as the more urbanized area of McHenry County. The trend was an alarming increase of 1 mg/L per year for the Illinois River in Peoria. Elevated chloride levels make water nonpotable, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency standard for Class 1 potable groundwater is 200 mg/L.
Water-quality issues are nothing new to the central Illinois area. Past and current issues addressed include high arsenic and nitrate levels. While some water-quality issues are naturally occurring, some present themselves because preventive measures were not taken early enough. Winter salt use issues should be prevented, given that once salt (chloride) is in solution, it does not break down and remains in the solution. Thankfully, movement in the winter-maintenance industry has been buzzing about improved techniques to reduce excessive salt application for operators, and TCHD sought to bring that education and dialogue to central Illinois.

Willing to try
A planning committee was assembled with representatives from the area, and Mark DeVries, superintendent for the McHenry County Division of Transportation, was enlisted as a keynote speaker. Joining DeVries was Brett Hodne, superintendent of Public Works West Des Moines, and Dr. Wilfrid Nixon with the University of Iowa. The three hammered out a course outline for the 2011 Heart of Illinois Winter Snow and Ice Operators certification course.  
The purpose was to launch a region-wide education initiative on proper road-salt application with the goal of decreasing the rise of chloride levels in shallow wells. The course provided the educational skills necessary to determine appropriate salt slurry mixtures and proper calibration according to pavement temperatures to reduce over-salting. While the focus area included Mason, Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties, participants spanned from northern Illinois to southern Illinois; and there were more than 90 attendees. The majority of participants were from municipalities and regional Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) units. These men and women received one-day training on the impact chlorides are beginning to have on the local water supply area, and the best practices, new technologies and application techniques that may minimize chloride usage. The hands-on calibration portion of the clinic gave attendees an opportunity to visualize the techniques discussed.
Using easily accessible materials (scale, bucket, chalk and stop watch), a calibration was simulated so participants would be able to replicate the exercise on their own trucks and equipment, regardless of type of equipment dispensing the salt. Generous donations and sponsorships provided materials and handbooks to each participant for future field reference. The end of day yielded an open panel discussion Q&A and a course exam that was reviewed on-site. Evaluation sheets were returned with an overwhelming positive response regarding the clarity and usefulness of information.

Better off
The planning and preparation for a one-day event was more involved than one might initially think. Initial concern was that not enough participation would be generated, when in reality, the day-of-the-event concern was that more attendees were arriving than the venue was able to house. It was incredibly rewarding to see heads subconsciously nodding in agreement and understanding during the presentations. The break times fostered opportunities for cluster conversations, which brought up useful questions for the Q&A.  
Multiple municipalities went straight to work implementing what they had just practiced by calibrating all of their snow- and ice-removal equipment. There were many take-home messages from the seminar, from pavement temperatures to application rates. Many of the highway departments and municipalities had never before tried calibrating their trucks in the past. Tazewell County Highway Department practiced the following week. It is still early in the season, but calibration of the Tazewell County highway trucks has already returned some drastic results.  
According to Rusty Albers, engineer technician with Tazewell County Highway, after calibration of the fleet of trucks, they were using half the amount of salt in their routes and still effectively attaining desired road-condition results. Tazewell County had never before attempted calibration of its trucks as demonstrated in the seminar. In fact, some of their trucks had a maximum setting of more than 3,000 lb per lane-mile distribution.  
After the course, Albers and Dave Scheuerman took the initiative to implement what they had learned while it was fresh in their minds. “The last two events are a shining example of what our calibration efforts have resulted in: [reducing salt application while maintaining desired road-condition results],” said Albers.  
The application rate recommended in the course of 300 lb per lane-mile was a new concept that the highway department took to heart. Albers suggested that prior to the course they never really had a general application rate for which to aim or a true way of calibrating their machines. Armed with both, they were able to test out the new information and were pleased with the cost-savings results.  
After speaking with road commissioners and operators of multiple districts, the overwhelming response was that they would like to send more staff to the course. Dan Steffan of the Woodford County Highway Department said, “We would like to get on a regular basis of going [to seminars] to keep refreshed.” Bob Roth with Peoria Heights Public Works worked with his team to create a small-system 250-gal salt brine tank to pre-treat roads that was very cost effective. They have only had the chance to use it once; however, Roth’s team of operators was very impressed with the effective results it produced.  
The point is that salt will be a key component in winter-road maintenance; however, how it is utilized is changing, and because of the Winter Snow and Ice Maintenance course, public works departments in central Illinois are now changing how they are using it, too. R&B

About The Author: Sjostrom is an environmental health specialist with the Tazewell County Health Department.