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
The United States isn’t the only country that runs into trouble with snow during the wintertime. Much of Europe and Canada run into similar situations, but the United States seems to be a mid-point between countries with huge snowfall totals such as Norway and others with much less such as the United Kingdom. One country that stands apart from the rest in terms of handling snow is Sweden. Because snow and cold weather is so common in northern Europe, Sweden has adapted much of its society to always being ready for snow. Swedish lifestyle is tailored towards the frequent cold weather, where most shoes are equipped with proper soles and clothes are made for conditions well below freezing. Salting roads is a legal requirement and special snow tires are always put on for better traction. Chains and studs are also commonly equipped onto tires to improve traction in the snowier areas where plowing and salting just aren’t enough to keep roads completely cleared. Even for airports warm sand is often spread across runaways to keep snow melted and to give aircraft traction when landing and taking off.
One aspect of life that keeps Sweden ahead during the winter is how they treat cold weather and snow as if it were just another day, since it is so common. School isn’t cancelled because of negative temperatures and people will still be seen outside. The real difference is their preparedness. Going out in extremely cold temperatures isn’t too much of a problem when everyone in Sweden has the proper clothing attire to keep them warm and safe. Of course though, when temperatures drop dangerously low more precautions are taken, and not everyone chooses to venture outdoors. Wind causes massive snow drifts and can easily cause frostbite. The preferred method of transportation in northern areas of Sweden and Norway and even Canada is usually by snowmobile. Snow sometimes gets so difficult to manage that roads become useless and there is no way to pass through. So instead of trying to get through the snow in a car or truck, many citizens choose to go right on top of it all with a snowmobile.
Middle to southern Europe views snow in a way that is similar to many Americans. Snow can be an uncommon occurrence and the level of preparedness is nothing compared to Sweden or Norway. A large area of Europe rarely sees long periods of freezing temperatures and so the expectation of snow isn’t usually fresh in everyone’s mind. But that’s not to say it never snows. Salting and plowing are still the preferred method of clearing snow, but many places don’t always have a fleet ready to take to the streets and clear away frozen debris. It’s all about being prepared, which is why sometimes we see schools may close for only a few inches of snow in European countries but also some middle states in America. Warmer states are often unprepared for snow and even a small amount can be crippling, whereas in Sweden or even New England a few inches is treated as just another day. In the coming months those few inches of snow that may be on the ground won’t be looking so bad just knowing how many feet of snow are already probably covering the ground in Sweden, Norway, or our neighbor Canada.