Although ice melt keeps us safe while walking around in the winter, not all ice melts are created equal, and some products impact the environment (i.e., soil, plants, aquatic life) more than others.
It is a challenge to find the perfect de-icing chemical. Some products 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. All of them 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.
Here are a few simple suggestions for homeowners and small business owners to follow:
Don’t use salt as a substitute for shoveling
Sometimes a better shoveling job up front 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).
Other times strategic use of a little ice melt at the BEGINNING of a storm can help prevent a thick layer of ice from bonding to your pavement so it can be easily shoveled away, rather than needing to be heavily salted after your walkway becomes a skating rink.
Use it Sparingly
Whatever kind of ice melt you use, use it sparingly. Never exceed the recommended application rate on the container, and remember that a little goes a long way.
Avoid Sodium Chloride
Traditional rock salt (sodium chloride) is pretty much of the worst of all available options.
Look for “Pet Safe” and “CMA”
Look for products marketed as “Pet-Safe,” most of which 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. There are also a number of innovative products based on ingredients like like beet juice and brewery byproducts, though these are seldom locally available.
With a little forethought, you can reduce the need for de-icing chemicals and choose the safest alternatives. If you do, your plants, your kids, your pets and your waterways will all be happier and healthier.