Green Snow and Ice Removal Tips

IKO knows the wintry weather can create headaches for commuters who drive in the DC Metro region. This area makes huge efforts to keep the roads clear and safe. Increasingly, there is heavy reliance on road salt and other deicers to keep roads open and safe. However, what happens to road salts after they are applied to roads and what is their impact on storm water and the environment? IKO Community Management has some green snow and ice removal tips to help make winter easier on you and the planet.

Road salting is a pretty recent phenomenon in our region. About 20 years ago, sand and other abrasives were the primary weapon of choice to attack snow and ice. With the advent of new spreaders and increased road traffic, highway agencies shifted toward heavier use of road salt in the winter. Annual road salt use has steadily increased over the last two decades, and now fluctuates between 20 and 30 million tons per year on a nationwide basis, depending on the severity of the winter. About a third of all road salt used in the U.S. is applied to states in the mid-Atlantic region.

Chloride is one of the main components of road salt, and is extremely soluble in water. As a result, there is virtually no way to remove chloride once it gets into the watershed. Once chloride is applied to a road, it migrates easily through either surface water or groundwater. Consequently, once snow melts, streams tend to get salty and the vegetation around them can die or be adversely affected. The heavy use of road salts causes damage to vegetation, to organisms in soil, to birds, and to other wildlife. In surface water, road salts can harm freshwater plants, fish, and other organisms that are not adapted to living in saline waters. All of this migration eventually leads into the
Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, road salt contains many impurities. As much of 2 to 5% of road salt consists of other elements, such as phosphorus, nitrogen, copper and even cyanide. A form of cyanide is added to road salt as anti-caking agent (about 0.01% dry weight). Under certain conditions, it can be transformed into free cyanide, which can be very harmful to humans and aquatic life. As much as two pounds of cyanide are deposited on a mile of four-lane highway through normal road salting concentrations. All of these impurities affect the environment and you!

While the majority of products contain chlorides to melt snow and ice, choosing those that are less harmful to the environment and also LEED certified is very important.

Check the Label: The table above provides a summary of the pros and cons of the various main ingredients of common deicing products. Check the package label closely to see what you are buying. Experts recommend using
calcium chloride over sodium chloride (rock salt).

Shovel Early and Often: When it comes to snow removal, there is no substitute for muscle and elbow grease. Deicers work best when there is only a thin layer of snow or ice that must be melted. Get out the plow or snow shovel and move as much snow as you can during the storm.

Know Your Salt Risk Zone: You wouldn’t want to kill your favorite tree, shrub or grass, so check out the plants that grow within five or ten feet of your driveway and sidewalk (and the road, for that matter).

Avoid Products that contain Urea: Some folks recommend the use of urea as a safer alternative to more common deicing products, arguing that it does not contain chlorides and, as a form of nitrogen, will help fertilize your yard when it washes off. In reality, urea-based deicing products are a poor choice. To begin with, urea is fairly expensive and performs poorly when temperatures drop below -6°C. More importantly, the application rate for urea during a single deicing is ten times greater than that needed to fertilize the same area of your yard. Of course, very little of the urea will actually get to your lawn, but will end up washing into the street and storm drain. Given that nitrogen is a major problem in our waterways, it doesn’t make sense to use nitrogen-based products, such as those containing urea, for deicing.

If You Must Use Salt: Apply it early, but sparingly ~ Remember what your Mom may have told you at the dinner table: “A little salt goes a long way.” The recommended application rate for rock salt is about a handful per square meter treated (after you have scraped as much ice and snow as possible). Using more salt than this won’t speed up the melting process. Even less salt is needed if you are using calcium chloride (about a handful for every three square meters treated). If you have a choice, pick calcium chloride over rock salt. Calcium chlorideworks at much lower temperatures and is applied at a much lower rate.

IKO hopes that these tips will help in making your winter easier and help the environment as well.

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