De-icing Roads and Sidewalks the Eco-Friendly Way

Salt is a convenient and commonly used de-icer; it is also associated with a number of consumer and environmental concerns.

| November/December 1999

The first big snowstorm of winter covers the landscape with a fresh blanket of white, briefly replacing ordinary surroundings with a sparkling new world. However, the beauty of new-fallen snow is tempered by the dangers of icy streets and sidewalks. By packing down snow, vehicles and pedestrians create dangerous roads and walkways. Warm daytime temperatures melt snow, which freezes again in the evening. Often, you need more than snowplows and snow shovels to keep the streets and sidewalks safe.

Deicing salt has long been an effective and ­inexpensive way to clear snow and ice from roadways, driveways, sidewalks, and commercial areas. Although salt is a convenient and commonly used deicer, it is also associated with a number of consumer and environmental concerns. As a result, some snowy cities are experimenting with alternative deicers.

The Ravages of Salt

Plants, soils, and groundwater suffer from the salt splash of passing vehicles. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, salt spray can disfigure broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs and kill buds and twigs. Absorbed through the soil, damaging levels of salt can result in abnormal fall color, needle-tip burn, and browning of roadside leaves.

Salt dissolves easily and can percolate through the soil into underground aquifers, which often provide drinking water to surrounding communities. A Toronto study has revealed that only 45 percent of salt applied to roads washes away down surface waterways. Shallow aquifers absorb the remaining portion. Improper storage of salt supplies has also caused severe cases of soil and water contamination. If salt stockpiles are left uncovered, a lot of salt can be absorbed into adjacent soil and water.

Sidewalk salt can have the same detrimental effects as road salt. Alternatives for sidewalks in­clude coarse sand, kitty litter, sawdust, or even fertilizer. You should be cautious with fertilizer because too much can damage your landscaping. Also, fertilizers that contain iron sulfate will stain concrete. If you prefer salt for deicing, use it sparingly.

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