Blistering winds, red noses, and the crunch of salt beneath our boots are familiar features of winters here in northeastern Illinois. After years of crunching, you might assume all that salt is necessary to combat the Chicago winter. However, the crunch beneath our boots is a sign of a great amount of waste. The fact is most cold weather communities overuse salt on roads, parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks.
Using more salt than necessary has several consequences. Excess rock salt wastes money, corrodes infrastructure, and hurts the environment. The good news is that it’s possible to have safe roads and walkways without resorting to dumping piles of salt. The solution? Lose the crunch and love the lines instead.
By “love the lines”, we mean embracing a snow removal practice called anti-icing. Anti-icing is a proactive approach to snow removal in which lines of liquid deicing solution are sprayed on pavement before a snowstorm. When used according to snow and ice removal best management practices, anti-icing saves salt, reduces labor time, and minimizes environmental impact.
Lose the Crunch: Why Too Much Salt is Bad
Adding more salt does not add more melting power. In most cases, snow and ice removal crews can scatter salt with space between each granule and have similar results to covering the pavement with salt. If we use more salt than needed to melt ice, we waste money from overusing resources and fixing the damage to concrete, infrastructure and adjacent vegetation caused by rock salt. These costs do not include the damage to our local streams, lakes and wetlands.
Too often, communities pile salt on icy surfaces and when the ice is melted, there is still plenty of salt left on bare pavement. That salt doesn’t disappear. It has to go somewhere. Salt ends up in lawns and gardens, on cars and bridges, and in rivers and streams. Mix salt and plants and you get dead vegetation. Salt plus metal means rusted cars and bridges. Salt and local rivers—which road salt reaches through storm drains—equals contaminated freshwater.
Rock salt is the primary source of chlorides in northeastern Illinois waterways. As local freshwater rivers and streams grow saltier each year, the waterways become less suitable for fish, amphibians, and aquatic insects. Unfortunately, once water is contaminated with chloride, there is no feasible way to remove it. Therefore, we need to focus on preventing salt from reaching rivers. That means only using what is necessary to melt ice, not any more.
Love the Lines: Why Anti-Icing Needs to Be Part of Our Snow and Ice Removal Plan
You’re probably more familiar with deicing techniques that happen after a snowstorm—for example, snow plowing and, of course, applying salt. However, according to Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, “Anti-icing is the most cost-effective and environmentally safe practice in winter maintenance.” Anti-icing is different from traditional “deicing” practices. Anti-icing is a light application of lines of liquid chloride product, like salt brine to dry pavement before a predicted frost or snow event. Anti-icing prevents snow and ice from binding to the pavement, making snow and ice easier to remove and faster to melt. Impressively, anti-icing requires only 25% of the material and 10% the overall cost of deicing. Less labor and salt required to remove ice makes anti-icing less expensive and more environmentally-friendly. Anti-icing can be used on roads, parking lots, and sidewalks.
Anti-icing needs to be integrated into snow and ice removal plans, but it’s not the remedy for all our snow and ice related woes. When we anticipate a frost or storm, we can use anti-icing lines for more effective snow removal. However, since we can’t predict every snowstorm and severe storms require more than one approach, we’ll still need deicing techniques. Overall, anti-icing is an important tool in the snow and ice removal toolkit that can reduce waste and protect the environment.
We’re not destined to hear the all too familiar crunch of salt when we walk across the parking lot each winter. With proven best management practices like anti-icing lines, we can waste less resources and minimize our impact on the environment—and still keep roads, parking lots, and sidewalks safe. This winter, lose the crunch and love the lines instead.