Winter months can prove dangerous for commercial property owners. Commercial property owners should be aware of this because icy walkways or parking lots can lead to lawsuits from employees and customers. Therefore, it is important to prevent ice and snow building up.
Being environmentally conscious
Because chemical products used for melting snow and/or ice eventually return to soil and groundwater, it is vital to avoid and remove the snow and/or ice buildup in an environmentally responsible way. Many companies profit from the green angle by selling deicing products that are environmentally friendly, but may not be good for the environment. We are here to tell you which deicing products are actually environmentally friendly and which ones don’t.
How Chemical Deicers Works
The chemical deicers melt snow and ice by creating a liquid brine that makes it easier to remove. This brine causes ice to separate from cold surfaces. It penetrates pavement and then spreads upward. These deicers can also be used before icing to prevent ice formation on surfaces.
Deicers that are environmentally damaging
Many deicing agents are basically salt treated in various forms. What is so bad about salt? The chemical composition of treated salt changes when it enters groundwater, ponds streams, lakes, aquifers or ponds. This can cause poisoning and death to fish and sensitive vegetation. Pets can also be exposed to it as it sticks to their feet and is easily licked off.
Salt-based deicing agents, which are used in commercial and residential buildings, are still the most popular.
Calcium chloride (also known as Calcium Chloride): CaCl2): Probably the most widespread deicing agent used in colder climates, it works in temperatures as low as -25°F. Calcium chloride is more efficient than salt-based deicers in melting and dissolves quicker. It has a higher capacity to retain and attract moisture, and it also gives off heat when it melts. This is the most versatile form of calcium chloride, as it can be found in liquid, flake and pellet forms.
Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. NaCl, a.k.a. NaCl, a.k.a. rock salt) Since the 1940’s, this deicing agent is used. Unlike calcium chloride, sodium chloride draws heat from the environment rather than giving it off and thus loses most of its anti-ice effectiveness when temperatures are below 25°F. It is most commonly used on bridges, as heat from moving vehicles and friction actually helps rock salt to deicing.
Potassium Chloride (a.k.a. KCl): Use of this as a deicing agent is quite limited because although it is a naturally-occurring material (and thus theoretically less harmful to the environment), there is a much greater likelihood of it damaging foliage and inhibiting root growth in plants with which it comes in contact. Not effective for temperatures 25°F or below, this substance is used most often as a fertilizer (muriate of potash) and as a salt substitute in food due to its high salt index.
Deicers that are environmentally friendly
It is important that you remember that a shovel is the only 100% efficient deicing agent that doesn’t cause harm to the environment. Period. Fortunately, there are some deicers that are much less harmful than rock salt. These include:
Calcium Magnesium Acetate (a.k.a. CMA): This relatively new melting agent is an organic compound and combines acetic acid with dolomitic limestone. Because it causes minimal damage to concrete and vegetation, it is best suited for environments that are very sensitive. However, it doesn’t work well in extremely cold climates as its effectiveness is limited to 22°F.
Urea, also known as Urea Carbamide): Found naturally in the urine of mammals, it can also be synthesized by combining ammonia and carbon dioxide. Carbamide can be used to fertilize plants, but it’s also non-corrosive and has lower burn potential than potassium.
Sand: It’s tempting to think of sand as an environmentally friendly deicing product, but it is not. Sand doesn’t melt ice and cannot therefore be considered a deicing agent. However, it can be used with deicers to give traction to ice and snow. No matter its purpose, sand has negative effects on the surrounding environment. Sand can block sunlight from reaching the aquatic plants in the lakes and rivers and destroy the life cycle of these waterways.
Alfalfa and Beet Juice Some environmentalists tout this as environmentally friendly, but there is no solid evidence that these organic alternatives to traditional deicers work effectively. Although the State of Illinois has used them before on public property, it isn’t enough to support their use for commercial properties.
Cat Litter: Like sand, kitty litter isn’t actually used as a deicer but rather as a substance to help improve traction in icy areas or walkways. However, it is important to ensure that your cat litter is biodegradable. Otherwise, the snow and ice could remain on your cat litter.
One last word on deicing
Commercial property owners could face serious litigation settlements if their sidewalks, driveways, and parking areas aren’t cleared properly. There is always the temptation to use less-effective deicing products than those that are more effective. It is a good idea, therefore, to discuss with an attorney or insurance agent any local laws and regulations regarding snow removal and/or deicing of commercial properties. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry.