Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 16, 2013

Editorial: Keeping down dust matters, but with what?

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — The Grand Traverse County Road Commission is right to question a contract with a Kalkaska company that’s under fire for spraying toxic solvents on Benzie County roads.

But perhaps a better question should be whether the commission should look further into the practice of spraying oil field brine on dirt roads to keep down dust.

Team Services LLC didn’t run into problems with Benzie residents or the state Department of Environmental Quality because it sprayed brine containing Benzene, Toluene and other toxins on dozens of miles of dirt roads. The problems came because the levels of Benzene, Toluene and other toxins were at a level the state considered “liquid industrial waste.”

So the stuff contains chemicals that are bad for humans, animals and the environment but is OK to be sprayed on roads — and leach into the ground and, presumably, groundwater — if the concentrations are kept at a certain level.

Maybe yes. Maybe no. Excuse us if that seems like a stretch. So how much of this stuff, exactly, is too much? And how do we know - precisely - the concentrations of Benzene coming out of a given tanker that was filled up at a Kalkaska well site and trucked to Grand Traverse or Benzie counties before its load was sprayed on a county road?

And how many applications are too many? How much of it leaches into ditches alongside those roads? Do concentrations of the stuff build up over multiple applications? Who monitors that? Who besides the company selling the stuff says the concentration is OK to put on a dirt road with maybe a little overspray onto a nearby farm field or someone’s lawn or vegetable garden?

Sure, dirt roads have been sprayed for decades to keep down dust. Back in the day those who who grew up in an area with dirt roads likely remembers the creosote-like smell of whatever stuff was sprayed to keep down the dust; it was sticky, stinky and brown, and it made a mess.

But someone, somewhere, said it was OK then.

Maybe brine is OK. And maybe the stuff breaks down and doesn’t get into the groundwater or plants near the road and — in the right concentrations, anyway — doesn’t do a single bad thing. That’s what we hope and, hopefully, that’s what the people who are supposed to monitor these things know for a fact.

But as an old Russian proverb often cited by President Ronald Reagan (in a very different context) put it, “Trust, but verify.”