With a little forethought, you can reduce the need for de-icing chemicals and choose safe alternatives.
While creating a safe environment during icy weather is a top priority, it’s also important to choose an ice melt that won’t harm pets, plants, walkways, and waterways.
For example, some de-icing chemicals harden the soil and make it too salty for plant growth, others overload it with nutrients that can reduce oxygen levels in nearby streams and ponds. Still, other products corrode concrete, roadways, bridges, and cars.
And all ice melts get washed off into rivers and streams when it eventually starts raining instead of snowing, and percolate into our groundwater where they can impact water supplies.
If a product claims to be “pet-friendly” it is likely to be eco-friendly.
Our de-icing suggestions:
- Avoid Sodium Chloride or “rock salt”. Traditional rock salt (sodium chloride) is pretty much of the worst of all available options.
- Look for “Pet Safe” and “CMA”. Products marketed as “Pet-Safe” will also be eco-friendly. Products containing a significant amount of calcium magnesium acetate or “CMA” are some of the most benign options commonly available.
- Apply in advance of a winter storm. Early attention before a storm will help prevent the formation of ice. When the snow starts falling, the ice melt will create a brine solution, helping to prevent ice from bonding to the surface.
- Disperse ice melt properly. Contrary to popular opinion, using large amounts of ice melt does not affect the speed in which ice and snowmelt. Using too much product can damage surfaces and harm the environment.
- Use a mechanical spreader for accurate coverage. The proper coverage rate is about one cup per square yard. This coverage will fan out and undercut the ice so that you can shovel the walkway clear.
- Continue to disperse ice melt during a storm. This helps to prevent snow from becoming hard-packed on surfaces.
- Don’t use salt as a substitute for shoveling. Sometimes a better shoveling job upfront will eliminate the need for ice melt altogether or let you get away with a bit of sand instead (though overuse of sand can also be a problem).
NepRWA monitors salinity across the Watershed
NepRWA scientists place continuous loggers in Watershed streams each November to measure the salinity of the water as we enter winter and road salting season.
The loggers track salt levels from road salt to measure how much salt is making its way into the streams.
Once NepRWA has the data from the loggers, we can determine how much salt is getting into our streams during winter storms, and how much that saltiness may be hurting wildlife.
Those 15 minute readings can be turned into concentrations of chloride (a component of both road and table salt), using a formula developed by MassDEP. MassDEP also sets strict guidelines about how much chloride is allowed in streams to protect sensitive species like trout and amphibians.
After NepRWA has analyzed the data, we work with our local towns and MassDEP to identify problem areas and advocate for reduced salting, smarter salt application, or salt alternatives like brine or beet juice, where salt levels are too high.
We also work with partners across the state to identify high levels of chloride as a growing concern with changing weather patterns.
Watch video below to hear Franklin DPW Director “Brutus” Cantoreggi and Highway Superintendent Carlos Rebelo describe how they have to manage both keeping the roads safe from ice AND providing clean, salt-free drinking water to the residents. Courtesy of Trillium Studios.
- Grist.org review of three eco-friendly ice melts.
- While the author states that the best approach is to avoid ice melts, he claims that the most eco-friendly product contains: Magnesium chloride hexahydrate, calcium chloride (2-3%), potassium chloride (0.5-1%), sodium chloride (0.5-1%).
- From Peter’s Chemical Company: How Ice Melt Products Work