snow piles up in the winter, we oftentimes turn to salt to
melt snow and ice. Salt, however, causes adverse environmental
impacts, especially on our streams and rivers. Excess salt
can saturate and destroy a soils natural structure and
result in more erosion to our waterways. High concentrations
of salt can damage and kill vegetation. Salt poses the greatest
danger to fresh water ecosystems and fish. Studies in New
York have shown that as salt concentrations increase in a
stream, biodiversity decreases. Excess salt can seep into
groundwater and stormwater runoff. Effective ice control can
help prevent excess salt runoff to our waterways.
De-icing in the Winter
There are many alternatives to salt including potassium chloride,
calcium chloride and magnesium chloride corn processing byproducts
and calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). Most can be found in your
local hardware stores under various trade names, so check the
labels for chemical content. While these alternatives can be spread
in a dry form or sprayed as a liquid, their best use occurs when
they are used with salt. They tend to increase the efficiency
of salt thereby reducing the amount that needs to be applied.
When 06-right-deicerover-applied, all chloride compounds can be
harmful to the environment. Non-chloride corn byproducts recycled
from mills and breweries have been shown to be effective de-icers
as well. While they are often advertised as organic or natural,
they can have extremely high phosphorous content, a major water
pollutant. Numerous studies have shown calcium magnesium acetate
(CMA) to be the most environmentally benign de-icer. Many northern
states use CMA on roads in sensitive areas (wetlands, endangered
species habitat, drinking water supply, etc.). A couple
of disadvantages with CMA however, is that it does not work well
below 25° Fahrenheit and it is the most expensive de-icer.
Because all de-icers can be harmful to the environment when applied
in excess, the best strategy is to reduce the use of these chemicals
as much as possible.
- The first line of defense should simply
be to shovel sidewalks and pathways to keep them clear and to
prevent ice from forming. Also, consider that salt and de-icers
are not effective when more than 3 inches of snow have accumulated.
- Consider the temperature. Salt and calcium
magnesium acetate (CMA) have a much slower effect on melting
snow and ice at temperatures below 25° Fahrenheit.
- Track winter weather and only use salt
and de-icers when a storm is about to come through. If a winter
storm does not occur, sweep up any unused material, store and
reuse for the next big storm.
- Apply de-icing products discriminately,
focusing on high-use areas and slopes where traction is critical.
Apply the least amount necessary to get the job done. This will
save money in product costs and will also help minimize property
damage to paved surfaces, vehicles and vegetation.
- Reduce salt and other chemicals by adding
sand for traction.
- Become familiar with various de-icing
products and wetting agents such as magnesium chloride and calcium
chloride, which can improve the effectiveness of salt and reduce
the amount needed.
- If you observe ongoing issues of ineffective
ice management or examples of poor application, such as excess
piles of road salt left to disperse, share your concerns with
the property manager of your residence or business.
- Plant native vegetation that is salt
tolerant in stormwater drainage swales and ponds that may receive
salt-laden runoff. Not only will these native species have a
greater chance for survival, but they will continue to act as
an effective buffer for our local waterways.
- Store salt and other products on an
impervious (impenetrable) surface, such as a basement floor,
to prevent ground contamination. Also store products in a dry,
covered area to prevent stormwater runoff.
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