Getting what you have paid for

Kirk Kaiser
EnviroTech Services Inc.

One of the most important, and definitely the most overlooked aspect, of liquid deicers is product testing. The liquid deicing market is unregulated and it is up to the individual agencies to ensure they are purchasing what they have specified. There are a number of reasons why testing is vital to a liquid program.

  • The goal of any public agency in winter maintenance is to provide a safe road surface for the public. This is the main reason agencies are moving towards liquids in the first place. In the practice of anti-icing and using liquid deicers, the amount of material that is put out on the road is considerably less than with solid applications. Therefore it becomes even more important to make sure the material you are placing is performing the way in which it is supposed to, as the margin for error is considerably less than with solid deicers.

Take a look below at the melting capacity of two solutions of different concentrations at various temperature ranges.

    26% mag 30% Mag & Diff.
Amount of Snow/Ice melted at 200F   1.89 gal 2.33 gal 23%
Amount of Snow/Ice melted at 100F   0.86 gal 1.14 gal 32%
Amount of Snow/Ice melted at 00F   0.53 gal 0.67 gal 43%

If an agency had been using a 30 percent magnesium chloride solution, and then switched to an alternate material of lower concentration (26 percent concentration in this example), then at 10( F the product would become ineffective 1/3 FASTER than normal. This would be a disaster as routes would most likely be refreezing while operators would be expecting wet roads. Any experienced user will tell you that without a consistent material there is simply no way to effectively use liquids in your program.

  • With solid deicers such as salt, you can visually inspect the product you are receiving and expect some reasonable assurance as to the quality of the material. This inspection will show if you are receiving gravel/sand/contaminants mixed in with a load, excess moisture, wrong gradation, etc. With liquid deicers you cannot tell any of these things through a visual inspection. It is very hard to tell if you are getting the concentration of materials, or if there are any contaminants, or even if it is the right base material!

For instance, we could set one quart each of 32 percent magnesium chloride, 30 percent magnesium chloride, 26 percent magnesium chloride, and 30 percent calcium chloride in front of almost any individual. There are very few individuals who could even tell the difference between materials, let alone consistently pick which material is which, simply by viewing it.

In addition, any contaminants are not likely to fall out of solution until the temperature of the liquid drops below freezing. It takes a long time for your storage tank, or tank in the back of your truck, to cool down as the outside air temperature falls. The liquid cools the fastest in your hose lines and nozzles where it in turn clogs your equipment. For a more thorough explanation of this please visit our website at www.envirotechservices.com and check out our February newsletter.

  • Government agencies typically take the low bidder. This is a good thing so long as all products are meeting specifications and bid criteria. However, if testing is not done, the playing field is often not level and this same system that is supposed to make it fair for everyone is open towards manipulation. Unfortunately, in a highly competitive arena such as deicers, the company that does not follow the rules will most likely win the bid as it costs money to ensure quality products, mix in acceptable corrosion inhibitors, deliver in clean trucks, etc. The vendor that does not incur these costs will most likely get the bid.

In these cases where the system is manipulated, everyone but the unscrupulous vendor loses. The fair competition loses the business and profits, the agency does not receive the product or performance that they have purchased causing more work and troubles than there should be, and the public loses as they ultimately pay the bill and do not receive the service they should have (oftentimes making it even more dangerous than before).

Testing does not necessarily have to be expensive. But it does need to be thorough and complete. It is too easy to get around a poorly designed quality control program. For instance too many agencies simply take a hydrometer measurement and compare it to a chart. This simply does not cut it. An unscrupulous vendor can take an acceptable quality magnesium chloride and simply mix in 10 percent sodium chloride brine (at a fraction of the cost). The hydrometer cannot differentiate between magnesium chloride solids and any other solid. Therefore the solution appears to pass with an acceptable concentration when in fact it is now a significantly inferior product. In a bid situation where fractions of a penny per gallon can make the difference, who do you think would get the bid?

Like anything else in life, if it is just too great of a deal to be true, then it probably is. Many agencies have found this out after the fact and the costs have been quite high from accidents and lawsuits to failed liquid programs. In today's world of liability, where cutting costs and low bid takes all, it is critical to have the right testing in place to ensure a successful liquid program.

Kirk Kaiser can be reached at 913-894-1643 or at Kaiser@envirotechservices.com.