Salt alternatives can protect water supply

January 11th, 2007    Author: Rodney Beckwith    Filed Under: News

While snowy weather can often mean a car covered in salt residue, the common man does have an alternative to de-icing their homes that doesn’t involve the harmful corrosive after-effects of rock salt.

Although tried and true, rock salt has met its match in terms of finding an effective and affordable alternative that won’t destroy more than the ice it’s used against.

Wade Hawes, with Clermont County stormwater management, said that two alternatives have been around for a while, and are now becoming easier to find.

“These alternatives have been around for quite a while,” Hawes said. “It’s just been making them available and affordable that’s been the hang-up. People have been using calcium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate for a few years.”

John McManus, director of stormwater management, said that safety is obviously the first area of concern when it comes to clearing out snow and ice. However, if there is a way to clear roads, sidewalks and driveways without damaging the environment, that method should be examined. Hawes said that rock salt, although effective, is dangerous to the environment.

"Rock salt, in surface water, is damaging to aquatic life," said Hawes. "It kills a lot of the vegetation and the fish don't have a lot to feed on. Also, it's harmful to drinking water and can get into the water table - aquifers and wells. It's also damaging to vegetation. If you notice, when a truck goes through, the vegetation on either side of the right of way is killed back about four feet just from the abundance of salt there. In streams, the calcium chloride and CMA doesn't stimulate algae growth, but rock salt does. Rock salt is very damaging to ponds and lakes."

Now, when winter weather begins to dump snow and ice, consumers can find bags of rock salt alternative in most retail locations, although they may have to ask to find the right product.

"Most of what you see when you first walk into a store is rock salt," said Hawes. "You have to specifically ask for the CMA a lot of the time, or calcium chloride. For the bags people buy for residential use, they cost about the same."

Even if using rock salt, safety precautions should be used when spreading any de-icing material. Proper gloves will help reduce any chemical burns from the material, and timely handwashing after any use will keep the chemicals from making their way into your eyes, mouth or skin. In addition to being safer for groundwater, Hawes said that CMA and calcium chloride are also safer for the ground itself.

"Rock salt basically strangles your root system and kills it, but the CMA actually adds nutrients to the soil," said Hawes. "CMA actually bonds to the soil and doesn't go through like rock salt. It strengthens it. It actually builds an abundance of organic acid. If it gets in your garden, it works the same way that liming does."

Rock salt alternatives are also safer for your cars, as they are far less corrosive to metal.

"Rock salt is highly corrosive," said Hawes. "So is CMA and calcium chloride, but the ratio is it takes three times the amount to do the same damage as rock salt. It's about as corrosive as tap water."

Don't expect to see too many roads treated with rock salt alternatives, however. While municipalities do have the option to buy CMA or calcium chloride, most are sticking with rock salt because of a cheaper bulk price.

"Some townships are experimenting with the new material, but they've used the rock salt for so long," said Hawes. "They've been dealing with the same suppliers for maybe decades, so they get a good price. Some suppliers don't have the new material available in that quantity. We're talking 100-200 tons a season."
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