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Could sugar beets be the answer for de-icing roads without polluting freshwater?

sugar beet laying on the ground
Adobe Stock

Salt helps to keep Michigan’s roads clear in the winter. But it also eats away at the pavement and pollutes the lakes and streams it washes into.

A bill that passed the state Senate calls for an experiment - swapping or at least supplementing road salt with sugar beet byproducts.

But it could also cause new problems. Western biologist Kathryn Docherty says it could also fuel unwanted growth of sugar-loving microorganisms.

“Understanding what will happen as a result of putting a pretty easy-to-digest compound onto roads is something that I think should be studied further,” she said.

Docherty is calling for more research as state lawmakers consider a bill that promotes the use of liquid leftovers of processed sugar beets as de-icers. A pilot program would replace some road salt or at least add the product to the mix. Docherty says it’s important to reduce salt pollution of freshwater.

"So, if this really does work it could be a really good connection between beet farmers in that area and the Department of Transportation, potentially," she said.

Docherty says the proposal, now in a state house committee, could help Michigan farmers. She says northern Michigan has an excellent climate for growing beets.

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