When winter comes, it brings with it the possibility of a number of accidents occurring. Snow can be fun and wonderful but when too much snow sits on our streets, it can make driving and walking dangerous. Many communities across the country have resorted to different means of addressing this problem. The risks associated with heavy snowfall must be decreased so that people can travel freely and without the fear of encountering accidents.
Salt has been regularly used to remove the excessive presence of ice in sidewalks, driveways and roads. This is because salt does a good job of lowering the freezing point of water. Thus, when salt is put on the icy concrete, the roads and sidewalks become less slippery for cars and pedestrians. Salt is very effective and easy to use. It only needs to be sprinkled or dumped in huge, concentrated amounts in the potentially slippery areas. Plus, rock salt is very cheap and very easy to obtain. They can be bought almost anywhere.
But while salt lessens the possibility of accidents occurring during cold climates, it can also have disastrous effects to the environment. The presence of a great amount of salt in the natural ecosystem has been proven to be environmentally toxic. Salt that has been put on roads and sidewalks can inadvertently seep into the ground. When this happens, the water systems will be contaminated, the trees will be dehydrated and the rest of the animals in the ecosystem will be poisoned. Salt that seeps into garden soil eventually kill the grass, shrubs and flower beds. It may also cause metallic substances such as lead to leak into the groundwater, thus contaminated water reserves. The worse effects of excess salt are most observed when the rains wash the salt into the sewers and nearby lakes, rivers and streams. This produces instant pollution of the above-mentioned bodies of water. Salt may also affect plant life when it is splashed from the streets and into lawns and gardens by fast vehicles that pass by.
Apart from this, salt has some ruinous, abrasive effects. Because of its corrosive effect on metals, it can cause great damage to the community’s highways and infrastructure such as bridges. It can destroy driveways and sidewalks by its corrosive features. It can also damage some cars.
The worse part about salt is that it can never be removed once it is introduced into the environment. It does not break down or evaporate. It stays there for good and builds up and accumulates as time goes by. Thus, there is a big possibility that the negative effects of salt will be felt for a much longer time than expected.
There are several ways to lessen the negative effects of salt to the environment. The soil in ground areas very near to highways treated with salt must be hosed down once the climate becomes warmer. This is to make sure that the salt does not accumulate in big doses as this will make it more destructive. Trees that are tolerant to salt such as Ohio Buckeye, Ginkgo, and White Ash may also be planted in the areas where salt is commonly used to melt the snow during winter. Plants, trees and shrubs in sidewalks and gardens very near to roads may be protected with temporary fence structures.
These tips may or may not work. The best way to avoid any harm that may be caused by salt to the environment is to completely scrap out salt as a deicing option. There are now many alternative deicers available that are just as effective as salt.
Magnesium chloride is one of the more effective and easy-to-use deicers. It is a naturally-occurring liquid material that prevents the ice from attaching to the cement in roads and sidewalks. It also serves to break, melt and disband the layers of ice that have already settled in the pavement. Magnesium chloride is usually applied just before a possible heavy snowfall. The major downside to the use of this substance lies in the results of several laboratory tests which all point to the fact that magnesium chloride in huge amounts is potentially harmful and toxic to aquatic life.
When flushed down after strong rains, it can also contaminate water systems which will eventually lead to several health risks.
Many people nowadays use coarse sand for deicing as an alternative to salt. Sand also lowers the freezing intensity of ice and causes the roads to become less slippery. However, the use of sand as deicer also has some disadvantages. When vehicles pass by, the sand already applied to the icy roads will turn into dust which will be easily transported by the air around us. They will then become air pollutants and irritants which will possibly cause respiratory problems to people who are exposed to it. The sand can also stubbornly clog our sewerage systems and cause flooding in the long run.
Fertilizers may also be used as road deicers. Many commercial fertilizers contain urea, a form of nitrogen which is an effective deicer. One big advantage of urea is that it is less harmful and toxic to plant life. It is also not corrosive and therefore will not destroy metallic structures. Our highways and infrastructures are therefore free from the dangers of gradual deterioration when this option is chosen.
However, the application of fertilizers on icy roads is a more expensive alternative. You will need to use a year’s supply of fertilizer for one-time deicing. In addition to this, urea encourages the growth of algal blooms in aquatic systems. These algal blooms consume all the oxygen in the water and the effect is that the fish and all other aquatic organisms will die from lack of oxygen. When fertilizer is excessively applied it can also damage the soil in adjacent grounds and produce unwanted stains in the concrete sidewalks and roads.
Kitty litter is also commonly advised to be used as an environmentally-safe, homemade alternative but it does not really do anything to thaw out the ice. It only offers some traction to make the roads less slippery. There are a lot of disadvantages to resorting to the use of this deicing alternative. Its application can be very messy and when the weather has become warmer, it may be difficult to remove and get rid of.
Before these deicing alternatives are used, it is important for people to be equipped with knowledge of the basics on how deicers work. Deicers allow the freezing point of water to drop at significant levels. They do not magically remove all the snow in the targeted areas. They only detach the ice from the pavement and therefore make it easy to remove and shovel the snow.
In choosing deicing substances, it is therefore important for the purchaser to read the labels in order to find out the ingredients of these substances. The deicing treatment may contain some chemicals which are very harmful to the environment.
After purchase, the deicing solution must be used as directed in the packaging to ensure its effectiveness. When too little or too much is used, the application of deicers may be very destructive. It is also important to make sure that the deicer is composed of different types of chemicals. This is to avoid the excess concentration of any one substance in the environment which will be have harmful effects in the future.
Deicers must be applied to roads and sidewalk even before the snow falls. The application of deicers is better preventive than curative. It is therefore crucial to predict any incoming storms to better prepare the communities. When this is done, a much lesser amount of deicers will be needed to fix the ice problem in our streets. This will save the community time and effort.
When the days become warmer and dryer, all the leftover deicers applied must be swept off the streets to avoid eventual contamination of adjacent grounds and waterways. They should not be left to accumulate in the streets because they will eventually become destructive pollutants. It is vital to remember that most deicers do not break down or disappear but rather, they only mount up and accrue over time.
While there are many environment-friendly alternatives to the use of salt, the greenest and most practical course of action to take is still plain, old shoveling. It may require a lot of effort but it is still the safest move to make as far as the environment is concerned. Make sure that when you shovel, you shovel to the direction of the roads and not into your lawn, flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Otherwise, you will only be inviting contaminants into your backyard.
To get the desired results, shoveling must be done as a preventive measure. Thus, people must regularly shovel the snow off their driveways and sidewalks and not wait for the snow to accumulate and the roads to get very slippery. When everyone cooperates, the problem of icy sidewalks and slippery roads will be an easy one to tackle.