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Snow plows are out, snow brooms in; liquid de-icing is definitely in -- but the chemicals are changing faster than you can say "enviro-worry."

That's the message for 590 airport snow men from the United States, Canada and Europe at the 28th annual International Aviation Snow Symposium that runs here through Thursday.

They worry about the environment, about maintaining on-time schedules, about what happens to every other airport in the country when an airport like Newark shuts down -- and worry about how to best use their dollars to keep their airports open.

"The thing the public forgets is that we close airports for public safety," said Robert Nowak, co-chairman.

Nowak described himself as "the guy you yell at when the Buffalo airport shuts down."

The event opened last weekend and has representatives from more than 300 airports at the mecca for major airport snow removal: Cheektowaga.

"The beauty of this is that none of us is an expert and we all can learn something from the other guy," said event co-chairman, Richard Dalton, of Boston's Logan Airport. "Here, vendors get to talk to the guys who run the equipment, so there's a lot of idea-swapping."

Logan, like most East Coast airports, is coming off a horrible winter with three times the normal snowfall. But snow is not the only enemy, he said. "Freezing rain and slush are probably worse problems for airports than snow . . . A half-inch of slush on the runways can get blown back into the engines and seize them.

"Our aim is to not break airplanes or hurt people. And the real problem is that airline schedules don't change -- they are set for summer operation and when winter weather closes down a major airport, it backs up the whole system."

That's why the symposium continues to expand. It is where the guy who drives the plow can find out from the pilot what bad weather means to him, or from an environmentalist what ethylene glycol may do to the water table, or see the latest snow-fighting equipment and learn how to use that equipment more effectively.

Thus power brooms are now replacing plows at many airports.

"They sweep down to bare pavement. A plow leaves a thin film of slush or snow and that can freeze," said a representative from a major maker of the gear.

"Ten years ago these were new, but now we have 20 of our brooms at Chicago and another 20 at the new Denver Airport and I think that's a real coup," the spokesman said.

Slung on huge Oshkosh power units that look like half a diesel locomotive, the brooms -- ranging from 12 to 24 feet across -- consist of rotary sweepers made of steel wire to cut through ice and polypropylene strands to do the sweeping. These rotate at a high speed, clearing a runway to bare pavement at speeds up to 30 mph. The curved housing is tilted to one side, creating wind rows of snow, slush and chemicals that are scooped up in a front loader and taken to a melter.

"(We) used to just leave the piles till spring," said Edward M. Bryan of MBB Trecan of Nepean, Ont. "But the environmentalists complained that the chemicals used in snow melting were affecting the water table.

"Now, most airports are starting to melt the snow, then flush it through a sewer system that neutralizes the chemicals."

If you don't want to sweep runways, you can always turn to Batts Inc. chemical de-icer trucks.

"We spray runways with potassium acetate now, not ethylene glycol," said John Batts. "Planes are still de-iced with glycol anti-freeze, but it is collected now, and not simply let to run into the storm sewer systems.

"The environmental issue is on everyone's minds these days," Batts added, "and this conference helps all of us understand those issues."

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