IT'S a regular occurrence at a hundred and more sites around New York City every day. Consolidated Edison workers go below the streets to repair underground electric cables. Corrosion is the problem, road salt the culprit. Keeping the city's streets free of ice in winter is not cheap. The cable-repair bill runs into the tens of millions of dollars each year, a burden that simply adds to the price of energy in the city.
But this scenario needn't continue. In some eyes, a solution may even lie as close as Staten Island ... in the leachate or fluid formed in and flowing from the Fresh Kills landfill.
The reason: calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), which can be readily processed from the leachate, is the Federal Highway Administration's ``de-icer of choice.'' CMA won federal approval because of its minimal impact on the environment.
A development program that could make biological extraction of CMA from woody and other waste materials an attractive commercial operation is about to begin. It involves the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Northeastern University in Boston, and the Universities of Syracuse (New York) and Georgia.
Conventional CMA is extracted chemically from natural gas and currently runs about $600 to $650 a ton, compared with $25 a ton for common road salt. But the true comparison is vastly different, when the environmental impact of the corrosive road salt is factored in, according to Lawrence R. Hudson, of the New York authority. When the costs of rusted autos, deteriorated concrete bridge structures, corroded reinforcing steel and cables, damaged roadside vegetation, and polluted drinking water are included, ``The real cost for road salt is nearer $2,000 a ton,'' he says.
In New York State alone, according to a report at the Solar '88 convention in Cambridge, Mass., last June, ``The deleterious effects of road de-icing cost more than $500 million a year.''
But bringing down the per-ton price of CMA is crucial to its widespread use. A very real possibility of reducing the cost of CMA is to let anaerobic bacteria extract it from waste. More significantly, such a process would ensure adequate supplies of the preferred de-icer, which could otherwise become scarce with even a partial move away from common salt.