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A major area of concern for the snow and ice industry is always revolving around the environmental effects of de-icing materials. Over the years we have seen transitions from traditional sand and salt to even more advanced chemicals that are used to melt snow and ice. There is no question that when practiced poorly, the use of de-icing material can have a detrimental effect to the environment, from causing erosion to poisoning waterways. However, we are at a stage where our society has acknowledged these issues and has made strides to protect the environment while keeping roads safe during the winter. In a report featured by the Salt Institute, studies show best practices in deicing can result in drastic environmental improvement. A University of Waterloo report shows that adopting new innovative practices for winter de-icing can result in noticeable reductions of sodium chloride in the environment. These practices include creating plans and administering proper training, and also establishing codes within cities and towns. In one scenario, a 25% reduction of total road salt application resulted in 50% lower sodium chloride levels in shallow groundwater. Why is this significant? Well, shallow groundwater affects soil quality that determines whether or not certain plants will thrive. If unhealthy levels of chemicals and minerals are present in the water, then entire ecosystems such as wetlands can suffer devastating effects. Plants don’t grow and animals are left with nothing. Not good.
The University of Waterloo report also uncovered some interesting facts about applying sand on roads. In recent years, more and more information has been surfacing about the negative effects of sand. Roads are constantly being eroded by weather and use, but sand is also a major culprit. The grit not only destroys pavement, but it also hinders draining. Porous asphalt is becoming popular around the country to improve safety efforts during storms. Normally, water would collect on roadways and cause splashing or slippery surfaces. However, with porous asphalt water won’t collect, it will simply drain into the road and be redirected under the surface. The problem with sand however, is that it clogs the pores and doesn’t allow the asphalt to drain water effectively. When draining is not properly handled, there’s no telling where the deicing material used will end up. It won’t just sit on the road forever, and it is likely that salt, sand, and other chemicals will spread into storm drains and other waterways.
Preventing the deterioration of American ecosystems starts with action from all industries. Any amount of planning and training for de-icing practices is a step in the right direction. Using innovative technology and high quality equipment is a sure way to accurately monitor the distribution of salt and other materials on roadways. Interested in learning more about deicing best practices? We can help.
Credit: Salt Institute, University of Waterloo, National Water Research Institute