Winter Deicing Alternatives

Road Salt

Have you ever read the label on the bag of salt that you keep in your garage for those cold, snowy days? More than likely, there is a warning as to the harm that traditional road salt can cause to pets delicate paws and tummies. Now, have you ever wondered, “if this product can be harmful to my pets, to what else can it be harmful?” If not, you should.

Road salt, usually sodium chloride, is used to lower the temperature at which water freezes to the surface and thus making it safer for us to drive when the roads are wet and the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It has been the accepted (though unregulated) method of deferring the creation and encouraging the melting of ice since the 1960s in the United States. Over the last ten years, however the application of sodium chloride has come under scrutiny by scientists, environmentalist and even legislators.

It is estimated that between eight and ten million tons of salt is used in the United States each year. Sodium chloride damages delicate watersheds when it runs off into water bodies, changing their chemistry and affecting aquatic life. Worse yet, it has contaminated drinking well water in New England as well as other sources of water used for consumption. Similarly, chloride changes the delicate chemical balance found in soils, disrupting the uptake of nutrients and inhibiting long term growth. Effects in soil can be seen as far away as 50 meters from the roadway and have even more serious implications for seedlings, bulbs, and early root development.

Even animals are affected by the widespread use of salt on roads in North America. Salt deprived animals have been known to seek out melted salty snow, ingesting too much, resulting in elevated salt toxicity levels. In Canada, there have been elevated numbers of vehicle collisions with elk and moose because the animals drinking the salty melt become too comfortable around the roads and lose their fear of cars. Seed-eating birds may not be able to distinguish between rock salt and small grains which they would ordinarily consume, causing them to become sick and often die of elevated salt levels.

Amidst these concerns over wildlife kills, water degradation and contaminated drinking wells from runoff, and habitat destruction due to the application of salt numerous cities have altered their preferred methods of road deicing.

So what are the environmentally alternatives to sodium chloride? Scraping and sanding was used before salt became the more persuasive deicer. While active scraping and sanding does not melt the ice or inhibit its creation, it has actually found to be safer for drivers in many ways because it forces them to be more attentive and cautious while driving.

For your general home use, start by first scraping and shoveling before you apply any kind of deicer. If you have to use a deicer, use it sparingly and check the weather. Many deicers of wholly ineffective when the temperature dips below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Realize that all deicers have some adverse effect. Sand and cinders are essentially non-toxic, but when combined in some soils with clay, they become close to cement. Altering your soil may inhibit the growth of your plants in the spring because they will be unable to reach needed nutrients. While in their usual uses they help plants grow, urea and fertilizer when used as deicers can burn plants because of their strength in large amounts.

When buying your deicer, read the back of the bag and all of the ingredients – even if it says environmentally friendly. Calcium chloride is considered less damaging than sodium chloride. Increasing the soil’s organic matter and hand watering the plants after the thaw can help leach out all of the salt trapped around the roots of your favorite outdoor plants.

As a side note, if you use a snow blower, consider moving from a gas or diesel blower to a battery or electric model. Not only are they quieter (your neighbors will thank you) but they are cut pollution significantly and use less energy.

Tomorrow we will talk about eco-friendly ways to deice your car and address whether you really need to warm it up or not.

Comment and let us know what you use to deice your property.

Image by Flickr user Paul Romans used under a Creative Commons License.

One comment on “Winter Deicing Alternatives

  1. Pingback: Warm Your Hands, Not Your Engine | BeGreenMinded

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This entry was posted on January 13, 2009 by in Dark Green, Green, Light Green, Medium Green and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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