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April 2000

Delphi Question: Retirement account access, road deicing

Question #444 (received 9 February):

[Based on something I heard, I was wondering if] Human Resources knows how much employees have in their retirement accounts, as it would have the potential to be a consideration for lots of things, like reduction in staffing or whatever.

Anyway, this seems like only the individual's business or between them, their accountant, and the IRS. On the other hand, maybe HR does not have access to this information and this whole thing is a moot point.

Answer (14 February):

TIAA-CREF, the administrators of UCAR's retirement plan, introduced a Web-based application called Inter/FACE in 1997. Inter/FACE gives retirement plan administrators quick and easy access to a wide range of information that is needed to perform various job functions on a daily basis. UCAR Human Resources also uses this application. Though it allows viewing of a wide range of information, HR uses only a small portion of the application.

One of the most popular services we offer employees is the on-line ability to calculate maximum salary reduction. Upon the request of an employee, HR benefits staff use the on-line application to enter certain information (current salary, previous year's salary, hire date, prior contributions, etc.) and provide an on-line calculation instantly. In the past, such requests were submitted to TIAA-CREF and the results would arrive in ten business days. Employees do not have the capability to calculate their own maximum salary reduction through Inter/ACT, TIAA-CREF's Web center for employees.

Other information available, but never used by HR unless requested by an employee, includes total accumulations, employer accumulations, premium allocations, total premiums paid, last premium paid, and year-to-date premiums paid. Except upon employee request, this information is absolutely not used or accessed in any manner, because, as the questioner stated, it is the individual's business and has no bearing on any decision made at UCAR. UCAR policy prohibits such a misuse of employee information.

Each of the three HR staff members who use the Inter/FACE application has signed a security and confidentiality statement provided by TIAA-CREF that states, in part, that disclosing or failing to protect sensitive, confidential, or proprietary information is considered improper conduct.

--Laurie Carr, HR benefits manager

Question #443 (received 7 February):

I am curious about the long-term effects of the magnesium chloride that is used before snowstorms to reduce slippery road conditions. Does this chemical adversely affect trees and shrubs along the roadsides? Can you tell me what kinds of studies have been done, what the outcomes were, and which cities or counties in the area are using magnesium chloride? Has it significantly reduced the number of accidents? What is the cost as opposed to sand? And what are the pollution effects, if any?

Answer (13 March):

UCAR no longer uses magnesium chloride anywhere. Deicing of roadways has become a much talked about and controversial subject for highway and facilities managers. Research reveals pros and cons for nearly every method of deicing, both past and present.

Physical Plant Services has experimented with several different types of snowmelt and deicing methods and continues to do so as new products are made available. The various products have only been used on walkway areas. The snow removal process for the mesa road has always consisted of removing accumulated snow and applying sand for traction. The sand does contain a 5% solution of sodium chloride to control freezing of the water in the sand during application and while in storage.

The only use of magnesium chloride at the Mesa Lab has been in the form of test applications on walkways. The chemical caused discoloration of the concrete and tracking problems that were considered unacceptable. An example of the tracking and discoloration caused by magnesium chloride can sometimes be seen on Table Mesa Drive below the entrance to the NCAR property after a snow or ice event. The city of Boulder applies magnesium chloride to this portion of Table Mesa Drive, and the road may appear darker and have an oily surface for several weeks following a snowstorm. Magnesium chloride remaining on the roadway in the absence of snow or ice will absorb moisture from the atmosphere, creating a slick surface on asphalt and concrete.

Magnesium chloride as a deicing agent has been in use for a relatively short time. As a result there is little information on its long-term effects on paving and the environment. The most in-depth information relating to concrete pavement comes from a study by Iowa State University's Center for Transportation Research and Education. Their study concluded that magnesium chloride is much more damaging than rock salt to concrete under several different environmental conditions. A complete description of the study and references can be found on the web.

The data on magnesium chloride's environmental impacts are more nebulous. Most studies show that, when properly applied, magnesium chloride is no more destructive to the environment than any other deicing chemical. It is used widely by the Colorado Department of Transportation, which applied 4.8 million gallons of magnesium chloride on Colorado highways in 1998. A study I received from the Boulder County Health Department that was prepared by CDOT was the only independent study I found on the environmental effects of magnesium chloride. Most other studies available were conducted by chemical companies producing deicers or their sales agents.

The cities of Aspen, Snowmass, and Basalt have banned magnesium chloride use and asked that the state refrain from using it on those portions of state highways that pass through their communities. Basalt, which has also banned the use of pesticides on its parks and public properties, stated unknown long-term health and environmental concerns as the reason for the magnesium chloride ban. Snowmass and Aspen also cited environmental concerns.

The studies I looked at touted the performance of the products but made little comparison with other products or methods. Liquid deicers and the equipment required for their application are more expensive than granular products or their applicators. Of the granular products, sand is the least expensive and, judging from the history of the mesa road, has the least environmental impact.

Researching this Delphi question has resulted in much information that may be of interest to anyone seeking a more in-depth understanding of the use of magnesium chloride as a deicer. Please feel free to contact me for any further information.

--John Pereira, Physical Plant Services director

Questions and suggestions from the staff to management may be submitted in confidence to the coordinator, Janet Evans (ext. 1114, ML room 517). They should be submitted in written form, preferably via interoffice mail in a sealed envelope marked confidential; they must be signed. Detailed procedures for submitting questions are given in the UCAR Policies and Procedures Manual, section 4-1-2. Questions and answers of general interest to staff are submitted to Staff Notes Monthly by Janet. They may be edited for publication. For more information, including links to questions and answers published in Staff Notes Monthly and a log of all questions submitted since 1995, see the Delphi Service Web page.


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
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