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Chemical Problem

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January 7, 2015 by Minuteman Trucks

Have you ever thought about how the salt and chemicals used on the roads for snow and ice prevention affect vehicles? Read Douglas Moser’s article below to see the effects and find out how towns and cities are combating this growing problem.

Chemical Problem

Winter road treatments accelerate deterioration of public vehicles

By Douglas Moser dmoser@eagletribune.com | Posted: Monday, December 29, 2014 | Eagle Tribune

The use of liquid calcium chloride to treat the roads before and during snow storms has taken a toll on the undercarriage of Andover Fire Department Engine 4.

The use of liquid calcium chloride to treat the roads before and during snow storms has taken a toll on the undercarriage of Andover Fire Department Engine 4.

Winter in New England means roads coated with salt and chemical treatments to prevent ice from building up and snow from packing down. But newer liquid chemical treatments are highly corrosive to metals and can take a toll on public vehicles that are out for long periods of time in snowy weather and are very expensive to repair or replace.

At least one New England state, Connecticut, is studying the problem after several fire departments there reported accelerated corrosion on vehicle frames that required them to be pulled from service.

The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation has not held any hearings on the issue.

Locally, several communities are making efforts to limit the damage caused by liquid treatments such as calcium chloride, which can be highly effective on the roads but highly corrosive to vehicle parts like frames, body panels, fuel tanks, and sometimes electronics systems. Several fire departments in New England have experienced cracked frames or accelerated corrosion on frames, requiring engines to be removed from service.

In the Merrimack Valley, public works and fire departments take corrosion into consideration when purchasing road treatments and developing a vehicle maintenance schedule. Several communities use liquid treatments such as calcium chloride or magnesium sparingly, if at all, to reduce corrosion.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, state vehicles use calcium chloride in low-salt areas and when the temperature is very low. Like salt, it breaks up ice and prevents it from sticking to pavement.

Magnesium chloride is a pre-treatment that also prevents ice from sticking and wets salt to ice and snow to prevent it from blowing away.

“We try not to use too much of the liquid calcium chloride because that can be corrosive,” said North Andover public works Director Bruce Thibodeau.

The town instead uses a forestry byproduct called Safe Melt as its front line, but as part of a regional consortium that purchases a range of road treatments it has some to use when needed.

Methuen uses old-fashioned salt, though that can be corrosive as well, said public works Director Patrick Bower.

Lawrence made the switch several years ago from calcium chloride to a liquid magnesium, public works director John Isensee said.

“We heard the calcium chloride was more corrosive, so we changed to magnesium,” he said.

Andover uses calcium chloride on the roads and has had rust problems because of it, but stepped up its vehicle maintenance routine in response.

“We have had issues with accelerated corrosion due to calcium chloride on the roads,” said Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield. “But there needs to be a good preventative maintenance program in place that ensures washing the undercarriage of these trucks anytime you possibly can.”

He said one problem they experienced is the treatment will mix with water and corrode electronic components, as well as outer metal surfaces.

Christopher Cronin, Andover’s director of public works, said his department has stepped up washing efforts to ward off corrosion. But he sticks with calcium chloride or magnesium because of its effectiveness.

“The expectations are very high for road conditions,” he said. “To achieve that we’re using a lot of salt or a lot of magnesium chloride. Chlorides are very aggressive on metals and causing corrosion, whether frames, bodies or electronics. It’s a big challenge for us to achieve the level of service the public wants and keep the equipment clean after a storm.”

Lawrence Fire Chief John Marsh said his department washed undercarriages often in the past, but had to back off. The ice the road treatment was used to fight would coat the brake system and create other problems.

Marsh pulled a 1992 ladder truck out of service earlier this year due to corrosion, but said he was unsure whether age or the new liquid treatments were to blame.

Methuen Fire Chief Steven Buote said his department’s trucks are pressure washed when they go into the shop for maintenance.

He had to take a 1997 pumper out of service in May when maintenance discovered a crack in the frame, though he said he did not suspect corrosion was a factor there.

“I think it failed due to age and fatigue,” Buote said.

The Fire Department in Tewksbury pulled two engines out of service after severe corrosion was discovered or had damaged the frame. One, a 1999 pumper, was taken out of service in October 2013 because of cracked frame rails that Fire Chief Michael Hazel said were the result of corrosion. The second, a 2002 pumper, was pulled because of “excessive corrosion and rusting issues” that appeared in between the vehicle’s annual inspections.

“I know that a lot of departments and DPWs are experiencing a lot of rapid rust and corrosion issues. It can be contributed back to the multitude of road salts and solutions put down in the wintertime,” he said.

Burlington Fire Chief Steven Yetman said the town pulled a 2002 pumper from service in 2012 after corrosion was discovered in the electronics system.

“We sent it out for repair, and they said the more we look at it the more problems we found,” he said.

Mechanics found corrosion on the frame rails, as well. With one pumper due to be ordered at the time for the town’s regular replacement schedule, Yetman said residents and officials had to decide whether to refurbish for about $225,000, or replace for more than $600,000 – in addition to their scheduled replacement. They opted to refurbish.

“It was a 10-year-old truck at the time,” he said. “This hit us square in the face.”

The town of Harvard currently is pursuing legal action against fire apparatus manufacturer Pierce after corrosion in between the double-frame expanded the metal and caused a 40-inch crack in a rail on its 1999 pumper. Pierce said the problem is corrosion due to lack of maintenance and road chemicals, but Harvard countered the frame is covered for life.

“It passed inspection last year, but when I went to have its annual maintenance, they found it immediately,” said Harvard Fire Chief Rick Sicard.

While the town decides what to do and waits for its lawsuit to wend through the court, the Fire Department brought up a 1965 reserve engine into front-line use.

MassDOT press secretary Amanda Richards said highway salt and treatment spreaders are the most vulnerable to corrosion.

“MassDOT is always monitoring and utilizing best practices when it comes to using the correct amount of deicer needed in order to protect the environment and control costs,” she said. “MassDOT does use liquid deicers, weather sensors, closed loop spreader controls to ensure that over application does not occur. The best prevention is to wash the equipment.”

In terms of time and budget, she said salt “is widely regarded as the most effective means of deicing highways,” thought MassDOT participates with other state departments of transportation to research other means of snow removal.

Several fire chiefs testified before a legislative committee in Connecticut earlier this year that liquid road treatments like calcium chloride or magnesium contributed to severe damage to even newer vehicles.

“What we found was that, specifically, our two fire engines purchased in ’07 have experienced a much higher level of corrosion than we’ve seen before in any of our vehicles,” said Mark Amatrudo, deputy fire chief in Wilton, Conn., which is near Stamford.

He said problems included rusting fuel tanks and frame issues on vehicles with about 50,000 miles and less than seven years old. The life expectancy for fire vehicles is in the 20-year range, he said.

Jack Casner, who is fire chief in Cheshire, Conn., near Waterbury, and president of the New England Association of Fire Chiefs, said the problem is a recent one.

“It seems to have gotten worse in the past five years,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the liquid calcium chloride or what. I’m not a chemist. But it seems it does (cause accelerated corrosion) because there’s more corrosion damage now.”

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser.

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