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spacer spacer spacer spacer February 12, 2004

Winter with a grain of 'salt'

It’s the burning question on campus this winter, but it has nothing to do with student retention, the quarter system or the wind chill factor on the Quarter Mile.

Jeff Flowerday of Facilities Management Services spreads potassium chloride near Frank Ritter Ice Arena on Feb. 3.

Just what is that reddish-brown stuff on campus walkways?

Potassium chloride, an inorganic chemical fertilizer, says Randy Vercauteren, manager of environmental services for Facilities Management Services. It has several advantages over sodium chloride, or traditional road salt, he says. Although more expensive, it’s less harmful to concrete and plants but still an effective ice-melter.

“With all the poured-concrete walkways and pavers along with associated plantings added to the campus, we needed to preserve this beautiful investment that RIT has made to improve the overall appearance of the campus,” Vercauteren says.

Although the potassium chloride has people talking, it’s not the first time it has been used at RIT, Vercauteren says. But in the past it was white so no one noticed. RIT buys it by the truckload and the tint varies depending on where it was mined, he says. So, next year’s batch could be white.

“It looks like fish-tank gravel,” says Josh Goldowitz, associate professor of environmental management and safety in CAST, who says the tint comes from oxidized-iron deposits. An advantage, he points out, is workers can see where it was applied, avoiding overspreading that wastes money and could harm the environment. Though it melts ice slower than rock salt, he adds, it lasts longer, so less is needed.

The color, which some people say resembles RIT’s bricks, has led to at least one misconception.

“I heard through some acquaintances that its nickname is ‘brick juice’ because of the color it leaves behind as it melts ice and snow,” Vercauteren says. “They thought the color was coming from the bricks, but it’s not.”

Nonetheless, to paraphrase a line from a Frank Zappa song, “Don’t you eat that reddish-brown snow!”

Michael Saffran

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