Wednesday 7 December 2016

Salt mine workers toil to keep icy roads open

Published 19/12/2011 | 05:00

TRANSPORT bosses have stockpiled three years' supply of salt to keep the country moving in case the weather turns arctic.

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Forecasters have ruled out a white Christmas as the recent cold snap ends, but councils are taking no chances and have thousands of tonnes of salt in stock to keep roads open.

And airport bosses are also confident there will be no repeat of last year, when up to 40,000 passengers were left stranded at Dublin Airport after it was forced to close because of heavy snow.

Never before has there been so much de-icing salt in the country, with 170,000 tonnes in stock.

And deep in the Co Antrim countryside, workers at the country's only salt mine are working flat out to keep our roads open over the long, dark months ahead.

Climate

Employees at the Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Company (ISME) in Carrickfergus are mining rock salt, with 500,000 tonnes a year removed from the Co Antrim mine, of which 40,000 comes here.

The salt is found in Antrim because it was at the edge of a land-locked sea that stretched across northern Europe over 200 million years ago. The sea eventually evaporated, leaving the salt beds behind. The area was then covered by clay, which stopped the salt from dissolving as the climate changed.

Administrator Alwyn McCreanor told the Irish Independent that up to 4,000 tonnes a day was mined in busy periods.

"This is the same as table salt, but food salt is dissolved in water, the impurities are allowed to fall off, the brine is removed from the top and it's boiled until all that's left is pure salt," he said.

"The salt is crushed to a particular grade, and an anti-caking agent is used to stop it from recrystallising. At the height of last year, we were mining 4,000 tonnes a week. Ireland has doubled its usage in recent years."

It's the same salt that's used to keep approach roads to Dublin Airport open. Airport bosses have also spent €7m this year buying new equipment to keep runways clear, including a 45-metre de-icing machine which can treat a runway in 10 minutes instead of 20 using older equipment.

"Potassium acetate puts a film on to the runway to protect it against freezing when the temperature drops," spokeswoman Siobhan Moore said.

Irish Independent

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