The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

dream existence

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Isolated from anything that truly matters, and vastly unprepared for that inevitable day when the lights go out and civilization collapses, your humble narrator nevertheless finds himself ruinously ill informed about things both ubiquitous and consequential.

Wandering about in a snow storm, wonderings about something as simple as road salt began to fill my mind as I watched it being flung around as a prophylactic against ice.

from wikipedia

Halite occurs in vast beds of sedimentary evaporite minerals that result from the drying up of enclosed lakes, playas, and seas. Salt beds may be hundreds of meters thick and underlie broad areas. In the United States and Canada extensive underground beds extend from the Appalachian basin of western New York through parts of Ontario and under much of the Michigan Basin. Other deposits are in Ohio, Kansas, New Mexico, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. The Khewra salt mine is a massive deposit of halite near Islamabad, Pakistan. In the United Kingdom there are three mines; the largest of these is at Winsford in Cheshire producing half a million tonnes on average in six months.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The side of me which hangs around Newtown Creek and the environmental crowd focuses on the effect that the saline rich waste water will have as it discharges from Combined Sewer Outfalls along the harbor into the already brackish waters of NY Harbor. Melt water, on a citywide basis, provides billions of gallons of wastewater which carry the tonnage of salt into the water- producing what is known as “salt shock.”

How many tons of dissolved salt does this water carry, and how does that affect both the physical geology of the harbor and the estuarine life contained within?


Will we run out of salt?

Never. Salt is the most common and readily available nonmetallic mineral in the world; it is so abundant, accurate estimates of salt reserves are unavailable. In the United States there are an estimated 55 trillion metric tons. Since the world uses 240 million tons of salt a year, U.S. reserves alone could sustain our needs for 100,000 years. And some of that usage is naturally recycled after use. The enormity of the Earth’s underground salt deposits, combined with the saline vastness of the Earth’s oceans makes the supply of salt inexhaustible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is the titan Atlantic Salt facility in Staten Island, one of many such bulk storage depots which stockpile the stuff for weather emergencies. Realization that I have no real idea what salt is (other than its purely chemical makeup), how it might be quarried, and what the difference is between table and road salt forced me to begin reading up on the subject.

A similar intellectual journey involving honey grasped me several years ago, it should be mentioned.

from wikipedia

Refined salt, which is most widely used presently, is mainly sodium chloride. Food grade salt accounts for only a small part of salt production in industrialized countries (3 percent in Europe) although worldwide, food uses account for 17.5 percent of salt production. The majority is sold for industrial use. Salt has great commercial value because it is a necessary ingredient in many manufacturing processes. A few common examples include: the production of pulp and paper, setting dyes in textiles and fabrics, and the making of soaps and detergents.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The question, for me, isn’t “how do you acquire salt?”.

It’s how do you acquire salt in industrial quantities? The honey question led me down a rabbit hole which exposed a complicated story of international trade, prehistoric industrial development, and the realities of how fragile the agricultural system actually is. Salt is another ancient industry, and was a substance worth more than its weight in gold during Roman times.

According to Roman Historian Pliny the Elder, the soldiers of the Republic were originally paid in salt, which is where the term “Salary” was coined (or Coine’d).

from wikipedia

Prior to the advent of the internal combustion engine and earth moving equipment, mining salt was one of the most expensive and dangerous of operations. While salt is now plentiful, before the Industrial Revolution salt was difficult to come by, and salt mining was often done by slave or prison labor. In ancient Rome, salt on the table was a mark of a rich patron (and those who sat nearer the host were above the salt, and those less favored were “below the salt”). Roman prisoners were given the task of salt mining, and life expectancy among those so sentenced was low. 


Remember that event in the fall which got cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy?

The “Up the Creek” Magic Lantern Show- presented by the Obscura Society NYC- is back on at Observatory, on February the 15th- ThisFriday.

Click here or the image below for more information and tickets.


Written by Mitch Waxman

February 12, 2013 at 12:15 am

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