Ohios near record snowfall this year has forced communities to pour on plenty of road salt. In fact, news reports indicate that many communities have used more than their yearly supply of salt and are waiting for additional supplies. But, state geologists say there's no reason to worry! We have a generous supply underground enough to last Ohio thousands of future snowy winters.
"Our reserves of rock salt, lying a couple thousand feet beneath Lake Erie and eastern Ohio, should provide enough salt to last us thousands of years," says Tom Berg, the chief geologist with the Ohio Department of Natur
al Resources (ODNR). During heavy winters like this, the toughest task is to mine fast enough so that communities have enough salt on hand to weather the next storm."
Did you know Ohio is one of the top salt-producing states in the nation, mining nearly 4,000,000 tons of salt a year?
Rock salt deposits in Ohio were formed during the Silurian Period, nearly 410 million years ago, when a warm, saline sea covered what is now eastern Ohio. As that sea evaporated, it left behind layers of salt deposits, some up to 50 feet thick.
One of the worlds most important minerals, salt was so valued by ancient civilizations that they used it as a form of money. In fact, the word salary comes from the Latin word salarium meaning, salt allowance.
Its no wonder then that salt was the first mineral to be mined in Ohio. Records dating back to the 1700s show that early settlers made salt at natural salt springs in southern Ohio. In the late 1800s, prospectors drilling for natural gas near Cleveland discovered vast rock salt deposits extending out under the central basin of Lake Erie and most of eastern Ohio. Initially the salt or halite was extracted as brine, but in the late 1950s salt mines were developed under the lake.
Today, nearly 2,000 feet below the surface, Ohio is home to two active rock salt mining operations: Cleveland and Fairport Harbor. These mines extend out some two miles under Lake Erie; The Cleveland mine is almost three square miles in size.
To mine this valuable mineral, machinery undercuts large blocks of salt, which are then blasted from the wall. As rock salt is removed, large cavern-like rooms are left behind, with equally large pillars of salt to support the ground above. These light airy rooms are 18 to 20 feet in height, feature extremely low humidity and maintain a constant temperature of 63-78 degrees, depending on the season. While still underground, the blasted chunks of salt are crushed then hoisted to the surface in large bins. Salt from these mines is used primarily for ice control on Ohio streets and highways.
In addition to the underground mines, two other salt-production operations in Ohio use a method, which forces water down into salt deposits. As the salt dissolves, the brined water is pumped out and evaporated to leave behind salt crystals. Solution-mined salt is much more pure than rock salt, and among its other uses, can be found in our saltshakers, residential water softeners and as animal feed blocks.
So, the next time it snows and you see salt trucks out on your local roads, remember that the salt making your drive safer most likely came from right here in the Buckeye State.