Bottom Line
The corrosive promises of on-road chemicals
Truck owners do not regard anti-icing chemicals as stuff that makes their job easier. In fact, seasoned truckers say these chemicals are cancerous to their trucks and hazardous to their lives.

With winter peeking its ugly head around the corner, truckdrivers fearfully anticipate icy roads, but they shiver when they encounter the slushy, slick de-icing and anti-icing chemicals that eat away at their trucks' underbellies.

In product brochures and press releases, chemical companies promise their particular chemical is less harmful to metal than rock salt and safer for those who drive in inclement weather. However, truckdrivers do not regard these chemicals as less corrosive or safe. In fact, these seasoned truckers say these chemicals are cancerous to their trucks and hazardous to their lives.

Chuck Murrish, an OOIDA member from Montana, says these anti-ice chemicals are eating his aluminum wheels and hubs and rusting the truck where he has pits in the paint. He noticed it was even eating away at his metal brake lining.

Murrish says he washes his truck, but can't always wash it right away when on the road. He says it also leaves brown streaks on the truck. The slush left by the chemicals also refreezes at temperatures below 20 degrees, making for a more dangerous ride, according to Murrish.

Paula Murray, an OOIDA member from Colorado, lost control of her rig while driving on chemical-treated highways in Cheyenne, WY. She was driving a 7,500 pound, one-ton pickup hauling a 17,000 pound fifth-wheel trailer on an icy overpass around 9:30 p.m. on March 10 when the wind caught the trailer, slid her rig across both lanes and laid the truck on its side in the median.

"I have had CAT 777s, semis and autos all break loose on ice before and never had a problem recovering because I go slow enough and know what I am doing," Murray said. "This was the first time I have ever had no chance or time to do anything."

"While talking to the Wyoming Highway Patrolman, he told me that my accident was the seventh vehicle to roll over that night in Cheyenne and the second to hit that guardrail," she added. "I don't know what sales pitch convinced these states to put that stuff on our roads, but we urgently need to investigate the problem."

Name that icky goo

Because highway maintenance crews use different on-road chemicals and mix chemicals, identifying the icky goo may prove difficult. Chemicals are categorized by their use for de-icing or anti-icing. Anti-icing chemicals are applied to the roads before the storm, while de-icing chemicals are used afterwards. Anti-icing chemicals prevent the snow and ice from bonding to the roads, and de-icing chemicals melt away snow and ice after it is on the roads.

The two most popular anti-icing chemicals are FreezGard and Ice Ban. FreezGard is magnesium chloride produced by Great Salt Lake Minerals Corp. Product literature says it is "100 percent all natural products produced from the Great Salt Lake."

The FreezGard sales pitch says magnesium chloride "increases traction, maintains the road for drivers and decreases potential for accidents." Tell that to Paula Murray. She says the substance used on the road at the time of her accident was magnesium chloride.

"This product goes on liquid, appears oily, and is slicker than any ice you'll ever drive on," Murray said. "Every time it rains, it gets slick again."

FreezGard sales brochures also say magnesium chloride is less harmful to metal. Specifically, the brochure states magnesium chloride is "50 percent less corrosive than calcium chloride."

Another FreezGard product, called FreezGard-Zero, is available with corrosion inhibitor that makes it at least 70 percent less corrosive to mild steel than sodium chloride.

If FreezGard is "safer for metals" as its sales pitch says, why does it need to add a corrosion inhibitor? Will states spend the extra money to purchase the product with the added corrosion protection?

FreezGard's own sales literature appeals to the maintenance supervisor's concern for the bottom line. Some of FreezGard's selling points to maintenance supervisors are:

  • It takes less material.

  • It reduces sand use and clean up.

  • Applications take place on the best road conditions for faster spreading and more coverage per vehicle.

  • It will increase the service level at a lower cost.

  • It won't clog the spray lines.

FreezGard is the most common brand of magnesium chloride, but the chemical also is sold under other brand names, including ICE-STOP made by the Brine Products Division of Reilly Industries Inc.

Although most states use magnesium chloride, many combine its use with other chemicals and materials.

John Blacker, administrator of maintenance for Montana DOT, said his department uses a combination of abrasives, sand and liquids. The liquid is FreezGard with an anti-corrosive in it. "Some of our trucks pre-treat the sand with FreezGard before spreading," Blacker said. "We also pre-treat roads prior to a storm." Montana also has been trying Ice Ban, which Blacker says is made from corn. "It is a molasses-type product, brown in color and it sticks to cars and trucks, and leaves brown spots," Blacker said. "It washes right off."

According to Michigan DOT, Ice Ban is the concentrated residue that remains after processing agricultural products and distilling beer and wine.

Drivers say the brown substance stinks and leaves a brown film on their trucks, especially on windshields and mirrors. Although product manufacturers say the substance washes off easily, truckers say removing the streaky residue is difficult, especially on side mirrors.

Michigan mixes the liquid Ice Ban with magnesium chloride for roadway applications.

Jack Manicke, maintenance staff supervisor for Washington DOT, uses calcium magnesium acetate and magnesium chloride.

When asked if it is corrosive, he replied, "Not so you'd notice."

Doug Tindall, statewide maintenance manager for Oregon DOT, uses calcium magnesium acetate and magnesium chloride with a buffer.

He explained that magnesium chloride is corrosive, but has a corrosion inhibitor in it.

Last winter Kansas DOT switched from FreezGard to an anti-icing mixture called salt brine, which is sprayed on the pavement.

Don't forget to wash! At this time, the only option for dealing with these corrosive chemicals is frequent truck washing. If washing the truck is not possible, at least spray off affected areas with a waterhose.

John Dixon, an OOIDA member from Whitehaven, PA, washes his truck frequently to combat the corrosive effects of on-road chemicals have on his Peterbilt 379EH

The cold hard truth

Despite complaints from drivers, state maintenance crews continue spreading chemicals on our highways.

Despite problems caused by the chemicals, maintenance crews are faced with an almost impossible job of keeping highways clear during blizzards, snowstorms and icy rain.

It is clear that truckers and motorists must find a way to deal with corrosion and slick roads.

At this time, the only option for dealing with these corrosive chemicals is frequent truck washing. If washing the truck is not possible, at least spray off affected areas with a waterhose.

Donna Carlson contributed to this article.