The weather was 50 degrees with few clouds in the sky, but Mohammed Hanif, franchise owner of a 7-Eleven in Egg Harbor Township, was out of ice-melting salt well before noon Sunday.
“People got panicked,” he said.
A salt shortage that has worried local and state departments is affecting residents, who were having a hard time finding any of the de-icing material in advance of a major storm.
The same is true for snow-clearing businesses across the U.S. Some may have trouble finding or keeping it, or have seen per-ton prices double or triple, said Martin Tirado, CEO of the Snow and Ice Management Association, a Milwaukee-based trade group representing 1,600 snow-removal professionals throughout the U.S. and Canada.
“The reality is there is almost an unlimited supply of salt that’s able to be used for snow and ice melt, but it’s a mining process that takes time,” Tirado said. “The mining companies don’t like to use the word shortage. It’s really a distribution issue.”
But the end effect for consumers is the same — no salt.
Meanwhile, high-demand for salt due to the particularly cold winter in the U.S. has stretched supplies thin, as have problems getting barges to deliver salt to New Jersey and elsewhere, he said.
The result is that people such as Pleasantville resident Hector Robles bounced from retailer to retailer Sunday, looking for the product but finding empty shelves.
“I’m going to keep trying. You definitely need it,” he said.
Employees at several hardware stores in Egg Harbor Township and Galloway Township reported they had no salt Sunday.
One employee at Lowe’s on the Black Horse Pike simply shook his head when asked where the salt was kept.
At Seashore Ace in Stone Harbor, the store has been out of salt for nearly three weeks, store salesman Gene Richards said.
“Our regional warehouse in Virginia has been out for that time period too,” he said.
Some people are buying other products rather than traditional rock salt, such as DampRid, used to absorb moisture but made with ice-melting calcium chloride, he said.
The store has been selling 4-pound bags of it.
Hanif, of Egg Harbor Township, said he had 20 bags in stock but sold out of them very quickly. He was selling large amounts of milk and bread too, he said.
“Every time there’s a forecast for big snow, people go crazy,” he said.
Tirado said the salt supply slated for the public sector, such as road crews, means there is not much left for the private sector.
This can directly affect businesses that clear off parking lots and office walkways, he said.
“We’ve typically advised these are the times when training comes in. Look at how you’re calibrating your spreaders. Make sure you’re not over applying, that you’re only using enough salt to get the job done,” he said.
Sand and other abrasive materials can add traction to snow-slickened walkways but do not melt snow, he said.
“It’s a way to conserve whatever inventory companies have left to use a little mix to get some increased traction on paved surfaces,” he said.
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