De-Icing Alternatives to Salt

Salt Alternatives

Weather predictions for our area for the next week (two weeks as I write this column) call for icy days and more temperatures below freezing. Ice is one of the most dangerous outcomes of winter, making going out onto walks, roads, and platforms a risk for the most sure footed. The popular way to manage ice is with salt, an effective tool for decades. However, studies show that salts can have many detrimental effects on the environment.

Salt destroys soil structure by killing some soil bacteria. This allows more soil to erode into streams, taking the salt with it. Salt erosion contaminates drinking water to levels that exceed public consumption standards. It doesn’t evaporate, or otherwise get removed once applied, so it remains a persistent risk to aquatic ecosystems and to water quality.

 Salt can change water chemistry, causing minerals to leach out of the soil, and it increases the acidity of water, according to Dr. Stephen Norton, a professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Maine. Salt acts like a desiccant and will dry out and crack animal paw pads – house pets are particularly susceptible. Additionally it corrodes metals like automobile brake linings, frames, and bumpers, and can cause cosmetic corrosion.

California and Nevada restrict road-salt use in certain areas to reduce damage to roadside vegetation. Massachusetts is using alternative de-icers like calcium magnesium acetate and potassium acetate to prevent contamination of drinking water.They are much more expensive than road salt, but if you factor in the loss of wildlife, soil erosion, water quality and corrosion, these alternatives start to look like a real bargain. New York State is considering doing the same to protect New York City’s watershed. Canada is considering classifying conventional de-icers as toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

For home use, there are many alternatives with varying degrees of environmental safety. Urea is often used for de-icing as it melts ice and is not corrosive. Alfalfa meal is a natural fertilizer that actually melts the ice, provides traction and won’t harm the environment. It is different than pelletized alfalfa sold in feed stores. Look for meal in.

Sand is not a de-icer, but it does offer traction on ice. Sand adds to sedimentation in streams if it isn’t cleaned off the roads, but on our walks it might even be a welcome addition to our local compacted soils. Kitty litter, gravel and ash don’t actually melt ice, but they do provide traction, but have similar impact on streams and waterways as sand. 

 

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