Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joining Hands for a Better World: 12.15.13

On December 3, I set out on a pre-Christmas challenge — to post a tip a day we can collectively follow with the goal of making the world a better place. 

Today’s suggestion: Don’t Use Rock Salt

Snow followed by “wintry mix” hit the Connecticut coast pretty hard last night. We devoted a good chunk of the morning to shoveling out which is why this post is late and why ice melt is on my mind.

The best way to keep ice off the steps and walks is to shovel away all the snow before it gets packed down by people tromping by. If the walks are clear, the snow won’t melt when the sun is out and refreeze when the sun goes down.

The real problems come when rain or freezing rain falls on cold sidewalks and steps, instantly creating a sheet of ice. Sometimes the situation calls for some form of deicer, or at least something to provide some traction. Luckily, today was not one of those days, but last night I had my share of worries.

Rock Salt (Sodium Chloride) is cheap and does the job of melting ice quickly. It was the stuff the highway crews used liberally for years, but not without some bad consequences. You’ve seen what it can do the bottom of your car or to a pair of leather shoes. Now imagine all this rock salt washing off the sidewalk into your yard or, even worse, washing off the road surface into the storm sewers, and eventually into the waterways beyond. The heavy use of road salts can lead to damage to vegetation, to organisms in soil, to birds, and to other wildlife, in particular those organisms that thrive in fresh water.

What is a homeowner to do? It is, after all, the homeowner’s responsibility to keep steps and walkways clear of ice.

Sand and kitty litter are safe, but messy alternatives. Ashes from a wood-burning fireplace are another, if they are kept away from food gardens. Beet juice, cheese brine, and sugarcane molasses, are being tested as de-icing alternatives by highway crews in some places, but are not yet consumer products, and the jury is still out on how safe they are for the environment. 

In the meantime, there are a number of more environmentally friendly choices. The Canadian GreenVenture website has an excellent chart on the pros and cons of the options available to consumers. 

The most highly recommended chemical on the chart is Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA). The biggest drawback is its cost, some 20x more than the cost of rock salt. For that reason CMA is not listed in every retail outlet. Ace Hardware does sell a product called QuadMelt of which CMA is the main ingredient. It is available in a 50 lb. bag and retails for around $20.00. 

If you can’t find CMA, at least switch to the less toxic Calcium or Magnesium chlorides, available almost everywhere. 

That’s it for today. “See you tomorrow.” I expect to be back with a Meatless Monday food tip.

“All together now,” as the Beatles once sang. Let’s see how much good we can do over the next few weeks.

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