Safe Ice Melt for the Environment? A Deicer Comparison

Girl Dog in Snow

A major concern among both environmentalists and snow plow companies is the impact that snow removal and ice melt chemicals have, especially on soil and ground water. Is there a safe ice melt for the environment? While research has shown that no method is completely without impact, there are different ice melt products to consider and application steps that can be taken by snow removal companies to minimize impact. There can be a balance between road safety and environmental impact. Here we will present a deicer comparison for you to consider your options. 

Ice Melt Impact on Water

Looking first at the impact on water quality and aquatic life we see that road salt, calcium chloride, and magnesium chloride all have a moderate effect. Road salt or rock salt is not generally considered a safe ice melt for the environment because it can contain too much chloride and ferrocyanide additives, causing metal corrosion and harsh environmental effects. Calcium Chloride can lead to excessive chloride levels and heavy metal contamination. The same is true of Magnesium Chloride ice melt. Acetates, Organic Biomass Products and Abrasives have a high impact. Acetates can cause organic content leading to oxygen demand. Organic Biomass Products can cause organic matter leading to oxygen demand; nutrient enrichment by phosphorus and nitrogen; heavy metals. Abrasives can lead to turbidity; increased sedimentation.

Ice Melt Impact on Soil

When we look at the impact on soil we see that Organic Biomass Products and Abrasives have low impact, meaning probably little or no effect. Calcium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride and Acetate deicers all have moderate to low impact. They can improve soil structure; increase permeability; potential for metals mobilization. Road salt has a moderate to high impact, sodium accumulation breaks down soil structure and decreases permeability and soil stability; potential for metals mobilization.

As evidence suggests, the major concern that researchers have is the introduction of chloride into water and soil near pavements where deicer is used. It is important to note that chlorides are already present naturally. The problem occurs when deicers cause spikes in chloride concentrations in nearby bodies of water and soil. Researchers have not reached a consensus about short-term or long-term impacts, they generally agree that chloride, sodium, calcium and other components of ice melt products can be readily measured in surface water, groundwater and soil near roadways where deicers are used. Concentrations are significantly higher during winter.

How to Reduce Environmental Impact of Ice Melt

There are some steps that can be taken to greatly reduce the environmental impact of the ice melt or deicer product being used. Smaller quantities of deicers can be used to increase the efficiency of mechanical ice removal. A coordinated approach is recommended, incorporating effective stockpile containment, careful calibration of spreading equipment, pre-treatment of surfaces when possible, and mechanical removal as effective means to minimize the impact of deicers. Other strategies include matching deicer application rate to temperature conditions, and reducing accumulation of snow and ice on roadways through the use of snow fences or other measures. It is also important to improve the application of deicers. Having better distribution and allowing the product sufficient time to work before plowing and reapplication can improve outcomes as well.

Safe Ice Melt Alternatives

Some high quality deicer products are also available that are designed to be safe and easy to use. Safe ‘n Sure Ice Melter, for example, is a blend of sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium chlorides plus calcium magnesium acetate. The blend is also colored to ensure that the correct amount is applied, all helping to make it safe for use.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) is one of the safest options available. It is “granulated calcium magnesium acetate, a patented chemical formulation from dolomitic lime and acetic acid. It is identified as a low corrosion, environmental alternative to road salt by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. CMA is used worldwide to answer environmental concerns and solve problems associated with corrosion and concrete spalling.” CMA is basically as corrosive as tap water, it works to -7 degrees, degrades in soil and will not corrode roads or bridges.

Sodium Acetate Ice Melt (NAAC) is another stand out product. It has several key qualities making it environmentally safe. It quickly biodegrades, even at low temperatures, and it has minimal impact on fish and mammals. NAAC is also exothermic, it gives off heat as it dissolves, and it works quickly, like calcium chloride, but without causing corrosion. These are some of the best products available, they enhance the safety of people traveling while keeping the environment healthy.

At Snow & Ice Salt & Chemicals Unlimited, LLC we strive to provide you the best information and high quality products for ice melt and snow removal tools. We are open and fully supplied 24/7. We are here day and night when you need winter driveway markers, salt spreaders, snow shovels, winter work gloves or ice melt chemicals with 3 locations in Maryland to serve you. Our customers come from Washington DC, Baltimore, Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania to pick up quality ice melt and salt! Contact us today with questions or for more information.