With the winter season’s approach, DIY and environmentally-oriented magazines are advising consumers about the green alternatives to snow/ice melters. Who knew natural ingredients like pickle brine, alfalfa meal (commonly used as an organic fertilizer), sugar beet juice, coffee grounds, fireplace ashes or a mixture of white vinegar and warm water could melt ice?
For facility managers with much larger areas to treat, using these homemade solutions is not feasible. Yet, managers, like consumers, are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they use and are searching for alternatives.
Sodium chloride-based products, also known as rock salt, have long been known to commonly leach into lakes, rivers and streams, increasing the salinity of these fresh water sources. One report estimates that after a spring thaw, the concentration of salt in fresh water increases to approximately one-third of the salt levels found in the ocean.
These raised salt levels impact the health and survival of fish, amphibians and other animals and aquatic plants. In fact, most chloride-based products cause some form of harm to humans, pets, plants and aquatic life.
When cats and dogs walk on surfaces treated with sodium chloride products, they often experience painful burning, inflammation and cracked pads. If they lick their paws and ingest the salt, they may experience symptoms such as excessive thirst, vomiting and diarrhea.
When sodium chloride spreads from sidewalks and driveways into nearby soil, it interferes with plants’ ability to absorb vital nutrients, including water, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Calcium chloride-based products, another common de-icer/anti-icer, can burn human skin on contact. If inhaled, dust particles can cause severe irritation and bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. They irritate dogs’ paws and are poisonous to canines. When spread into gardens and on to vegetation, calcium chloride can have a defoliating effect on trees and other plants.
Magnesium chloride-based products are considered to be better for the environment than those made from sodium and calcium chloride, but they cannot be considered environmentally friendly because they still contain a high percentage of chloride salts.
Beyond health and environmental concerns, chlorides also are corrosive to metals and, to varying degrees, concrete, asphalt and stone walkways, and will reduce the functional life of structures such as railings and doors.
An alternative to chloride-based granular ice melt products are liquid de-icers. One such product based upon potassium formate technology is 100 per cent chloride-free and readily biodegradable. It is safer for pets, plants, metal, concrete and other surfaces. Its toxicity rate is significantly lower than that of calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), rock salt and potassium acetate.
Facility managers have been attracted to liquid ice melt/de-ice products in recent years largely because they are much easier to apply. There is no need to carry a bag of granular product across walkways and up and down stairways to administer — and no need to continually reach into the bag to scoop out de-icer. Spray applications are far more efficient, easy to use and provide for very precise application rates.
Because children and pets are not typically walking or playing on the grounds of commercial buildings, facility managers may view consumer concerns about child and pet-based eco-friendliness as of secondary importance. But a building’s indoor environment is also negatively impacted by some de-ice/anti-ice materials. When tracked into a facility, sodium chloride de-icers leave a white residue that can dull the finish of floors and fade the colour of carpets. Calcium and magnesium chloride-based products coat floors with an oily, slippery residue that damages wax and urethane finishes, posing a safety risk to employees and visitors.
By contrast, the neutral pH formulations of certain potassium formate technology deicers eliminate tracking, leaving no residue. This reduces near-term labour costs associated with manual cleaning, estimated at $50 per entrance per day, according to the ISSA’s Clean Management Institute. And with no tracking and no residue, the building’s floors and carpets are safer to walk, too.
Outdoors, potassium formate technology de-icers create a safer environment for pedestrians more quickly than chloride-based de-icers. For example, some potassium formate technology de-icers have a speed of melt of 30 to 50 seconds by reducing the freezing point to temperatures as low as minus 53 C. These de-icers quickly and reliably remove thin layers of ice and prevent new snow and ice from accumulating. By contrast, chloride-based granular de-icers take a minimum of three to five minutes to achieve an acceptable melt, and as much as 10 minutes.
Most users will achieve a lower application cost per 1,000 square feet with liquids than with granular de-icers because of the ease and speed of application and the reduced amount of product needed to produce an acceptable melt.
Combined, the benefits of liquid de-icers based upon potassium formate technology are making it easier for facility managers to create a clean, safe environment.
Nate Clemmer is CEO of Branch Creek, the maker of Entry — the chloride-free liquid
ice melt that eliminates the mess of salt. He can be reached at 1-888-408-5433 or [email protected]