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For years, homeowners and snow removal companies alike have been over rock-salting their sidewalks, driveways and roads without realizing the damage it causes to pets, the environment and infrastructure.
While rock salt and other ice melt products have their benefits, especially regarding human safety – it’s important to remember negative product impacts and how to prevent them.
Salt and chloride products should always be used in combination with shoveling, snow blowing or plowing. The products are not made to melt three or four inches of snow, rather they should be used to melt ice or stubborn, packed-down snow.
By using too much ice melt product at a time, consumers run the risk of clumps of salt forming and remaining on the concrete or asphalt after the snow or ice has melted. These remaining salt clumps can cause damage to walkways, driveways and landscaping.
The ice melt can cause concrete and some asphalts to crack. The product can also have harmful effects on pets that tends to go outside.
“Using too much ice melt product is economically wasteful. Environmentally, you’re contributing more chlorides that will eventually reach freshwater sheds," explained Phill Sexton, a primary sustainability adviser at WIT Advisers. "Salt that is over saturated can have a reverse effect, it can actually cause concrete to freeze."
The environmental impact of sodium chloride, whether you use a lot or a little can really affect the local freshwater supply.
“There’s really no way to remove chloride from fresh water when it becomes contaminated,” explained Martin Tirado, CEO of the Snow and Ice Management Association.
Although many brands and variations of ice melt products claim to be "environmentally safe" or "non-corrosive" it's important to remember that these claims are not strictly regulated, according to Sexton. Although they may contain corrosion inhibitors, they still contain the same amount of harmful and corrosive sodium chloride as other ice melt products.
"If you're looking for something that may be less corrosive to infrastructure like concrete, doorways or anything with metal, you need to understand that anything with chlorides will cause that corrosion," Sexton said. "You might have a bag of salt that has a non-corrosive inhibitor, but the fact is, if it still has chloride in the bag, it’ll still have some sort of corrosive effect."
Pets can face dangers such as illness from ingestion, irritation from corrosive elements and bleeding from contact with ice melt products. To avoid these dangers, the ASPCA recommends you should bring a towel on long walks to wipe your pet's paws if they get irritated and then wash and dry your pet's feet and stomach when returning from a walk.
Using the precise amount of product dictated on the labels of ice melt compounds is best to ensure using no more than absolutely necessary.
“You should use just enough to have pavement that is free and clear of snow and ice,” Tirado said. “Too often the pavement is clear of ice, but you’re still walking on clumps of rock salt.”
Sexton noted that it is common for people to apply generous layers of ice melt to small surface areas, rather than referring to the recommended amount on package labels.
"If you had a ten-foot-wide by 100-foot-long driveway, the right amount of salt is no more than a coffee can full. But most people would likely put down 25-50 lbs," Sexton said. "Putting more salt down does not mean it will be more effective, sometimes it can even be less effective."
"When you use too much rock salt, you are being economically less effective and environmentally less responsible," said Sexton.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
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