ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Rock salt. It’s used by cities, homeowners and businesses to keep sidewalks clear after a snowstorm. It works well but research has shown that it’s also harmful to the environment.
The salt used on roads and sidewalks eventually finds its way into waterways, changing its composition, creating an inhospitable habitat for local wildlife. It also creates a puzzle for municipalities and homeowners who want to keep roads/sidewalks safe while remaining environmentally conscious.
As awareness of the negative effects associated with rock salt use grow, ideas about how to solve this problem are being explored.
Rock salt still remains the New York State Thruway Authority’s main way to keep roads safe and free of ice but they are using alternatives that decrease the amount of rock salt used.
In addition to rock salt they also use a salt/beet brine mixture to treat and pre-treat roadways according to their website.
Overuse of rock salt doesn’t just affect wildlife. It can make domestic animals sick as they often ingest it while cleaning themselves. It can also harm lawns, trees or shrubbery and can corrode metal or concrete.
Because homeowners and businesses are operating on a smaller scale than municipalities they have other alternatives to rock salt. Readers Digest suggests using heat mats, sand or more environmentally-friendly options like calcium magnesium acetate. Similarly, homeowners can also purchase an non-slip ice carpet.
Penn State Extension suggests the following eco-conscious deicing options:
- Spread deicer before it snows.
- Remove as much snow and ice as possible before using a deicer.
- Follow the directions on the deicer. Using more isn’t always necessary to get good results.
- Rock salt should not be used within 5-10 feet of susceptible plants.
- Block off icy areas if they are not in use.
- Mix warm water and table salt or water conditioning salt for use on areas with a thin layer of ice.
- Use sand for traction.
- In advance of winter precipitation, cover areas (ie. stairs) with a tarp or other waterproof cover.
The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies released a report in 2010 that highlights the negative environmental effects of road salt as well as ways to decrease its use. The entire report can be found here.