Environmentally Friendly Deicing Products

During the winter months commercial property owners are all too familiar with how ice on sidewalks, driveways and parking lots can be hazardous. This is especially important for owners of commercial properties because icy walkways and parking lots can result in lawsuits from customers and employees alike, so preventing ice and snow from building up is both a legal as well and as an economic imperative.

Being Environmentally Conscious

Preventing and removing the buildup of snow and ice in environmentally responsible ways is important because chemical products used to melt snow and ice inevitably return to the soil and groundwater. Some companies exploit the green angle by selling environmentally friendly deicing products which may or may not be friendly to the environment. We wish to set the record straight as to what deicing products are really environmentally friendly, which ones aren’t and which ones should be avoided because they don’t work.

How Chemical Deicers Work

Chemical deicers work by forming a liquid brine which melts snow and ice and makes it much easier to remove by shoveling or plowing. This brine breaks the bond between ice and cold surfaces by seeping downward into the pavement and spreading outward. If used prior to icing conditions, these deicers will also prevent ice from forming on surfaces.

Environmentally Damaging Deicers

Most deicing agents are essentially treated salt in different forms. So, what’s so harmful about salt you may ask? Well, once this treated salt enters groundwater or ponds, streams, lakes and aquifers, its chemical composition changes and can poison fish and kill sensitive vegetation. It can also be extremely dangerous to pets as it sticks to their paws when they walk on it and they lick it off.

Nevertheless, salt-based deicing agents are the most common used by landlords in both commercial and residential buildings and include;

Calcium Chloride (a.k.a. CaCl2): Probably the most widespread deicing agent used in colder climates, it works in temperatures as low as -25°F. Calcium chloride dissolves faster and starts the melting process quicker than other salt-based deicers because it has a greater capacity to both attract and retain moisture and actually gives off heat as it melts. Is also the most versatile as it is available in liquid, flake or pellet form.

Sodium Chloride (a.k.a. NaCl, a.k.a. rock salt): This deicing agent has been used since the 1940’s. 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. This is why it is used most often on bridges because heat generated by the friction of moving vehicles actually assists in rock salt’s deicing properties.

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.

Environmentally Friendly Deicers

It is important to note that the only 100% effective deicing agent that doesn’t harm the environment is a shovel. Period. With that said, some deicers are available that are far less damaging than rock salt. They include —

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (a.k.a. CMA): This relatively new melting agent is an organic compound and combines acetic acid with dolomitic limestone. It is most effective in environments that are extremely sensitive as it causes very little damage to both concrete and vegetation. However, it doesn’t work well in extremely cold climates as its effectiveness is limited to 22°F.

Urea (a.k.a. Carbamide): Found naturally in the urine of mammals, it can also be synthesized by combining ammonia and carbon dioxide. Although Carbamide is used primarily as a fertilizer, it can be used as a deicing agent as it is both non-corrosive and has a lower burn potential than potassium chloride.

Sand: It’s tempting to think of sand as an environmentally friendly deicing product, but it is not. Sand does not melt ice so it cannot be accurately called a deicing agent. It is, however, used in conjunction with deicers to provide traction on ice or snow. No matter what it’s used for, sand’s negative effects on the environment including clouding up lakes and rivers by preventing sunlight from reaching aquatic plants and destroying the lifecycle in 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. The State of Illinois has used them on public property in the past, but that is hardly enough proof to support using them to remove snow and ice on 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, be sure to use cat litter that is biodegradable or it could still be around when the ice and snow melts.

One Final Word About Deicing

Commercial property owners you can face severe litigation settlements if they fail to properly clear the sidewalks, driveways and parking areas on their property so the temptation always exists to forgo environmentally friendly deicing products in favor of ones that are not only effective but inexpensive as well. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to review with an attorney and/or insurance agent any special laws or regulations in your town concerning snow removal and/or deicing procedures on commercial properties. After all, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.


Leave a Reply