In 1994 my mother-in-law broke both her wrists when she fell on her driveway. It was coated with one inch of ice and some snow had accumulated over the ice on the pavement. She lay on the ground for 20 minutes until I found her. The rock salt we had used just a few hours before did not melt the ice and snow in its entirety. What we didn’t know is that rock salt alone only melts ice down to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Most people just reapply salt, thinking the more the better. In fact, they just end up having high quantities of rock salt dissolved in the melt water in Spring. This melt water flows into surrounding surface waters and infiltrates ground water. Salt contamination of soil and groundwater often results in vegetation stress and plant die-back. The lack of healthy vegetation leads in turn to soil erosion, and sodium ions can displace essential plant nutrients in the soil, changing the soil food web. What this all means is that high quantities of salt in the soil disturb the natural balance. The whole ecosystem is disrupted. As well as being harmful to the environment, when rock salt gets into pets paws, it can result in painful drying or burning.
Rock salt is a bad choice for many reasons.
So what alternatives are there? Products approved and registered as Environmentally Preferred Products (EPP) by state environmental protection departments. Environmentally Preferable Products (EPPs) of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are products that have a lesser, or reduced effect on human health and the environment. They are safer when compared to competing products or services that serve the same purpose. For example, at your local improvement store, you can find four different deicer bags. They may be made of either magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, calcium chloride or sodium chloride. On a pound for pound basis, magnesium chloride contains approximately 20, 30 and 45 less chlorides than potassium chloride, calcium chloride and sodium chloride respectively. The use of products with less chlorides results in significantly less chloride runoff and pollution.
For the past five years, I have been using several deicers. One product is made by blending byproducts from alcohol distilleries with the mineral magnesium chloride. It is environmentally friendlier because it releases far less chloride than either calcium chloride or plain rock salt. Not only that, but it is saving me money because the product lasts longer and I reduce applications by 50 percent. In addition, it melts ice and snow down to minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Some brands that you might look for are Magic Salt, Safe Paw’s and Pet Gold Ice Melt. So look for an environmentally preferable product, find a new product to save yourself a dangerous fall this winter, and while you are at it, you’ll be helping to save the environment.