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A Cheesy Snow Solution: Towns Adding Cheese Waste To Road Salt

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A city plow clears a residential street in the Bucktown neighborhood. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A city plow clears a residential street in the Bucktown neighborhood. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — As historic amounts of snow continue to fall across Chicago, many towns are worried about a dwindling supply of salt to clear their roads.

Town managers might want to dial up their friends up to the north.

So far this year, Chicago has gotten nearly 60 inches of snow, and it ranks No. 4 all time, with weeks to go.

Some Wisconsin towns, including Milwaukee, are turning to the state’s staple–cheese–for help.

Cities are treating their salt with a byproduct of the cheese making process: cheese brine.

Rather than send the liquid brine to treatment plants, cheese makers are giving it to municipalities, which are adding it to their road salt.

Brine is effective because it can melt snow and ice at a lower temperature than normal salt. It also helps the salt stick to the road.

Illinois residents will recall that recent storms have made snow clearing difficult because temperatures got so cold that laying down road salt would basically do nothing to melt the snow pack.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has insisted Chicago will have enough road salt for the rest of the winter.

However, some suburbs started cutting back on salting roads when they get snow, because of dwindling supplies. That’s a concern, because the spring thaw cycle often requires more salt for roads than the middle of winter.

It’s not just the amount of snow that’s causing a problem. Transportation delays from salt suppliers also have been an issue, with barges that deliver the salt getting stuck in icy rivers.

In Aurora, city crews already have used 13,500 tons of salt, about the same amount they used the entire winter of 2012-13. Naperville crews already used nearly four times what they used last year at this time. Oak Park and Elgin spread more than 75 percent of what they used all last winter, and far more than the typical winter at this point.

In west suburban Maywood, village officials have been plowing – but not salting – many local streets, because they’re down to about 500 tons of salt for more than six remaining weeks of winter.

Are certain types of cheese waste more effective?

Well, yes.

“You want to use provolone or mozzarella,” Jeffrey A. Tews, the fleet operations manager for Milwaukee’s public works department, told the New York Times.

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