With all the discussion about salt, I’d like to give some facts about removing snow and ice and the effects of chlorides on the environment and infrastructure:

1) Salt doesn’t melt snow and ice much below 20F. Surface, not air temperatures are the measurement here. Putting down more rock salt when temperatures fall below this level won’t make driving or walking any safer. We’re conditioned to think that more is better, but in this case it’s really not.

2) Most municipalities spray rock salt with calcium chloride–a highly corrosive chemical–to make it work at lower temperatures. Besides being corrosive, calcium chloride tends to “overmelt” and will refreeze if temperatures keep falling.

3) Every chloride is corrosive, some a lot more than others. Reducing the amount of chlorides adds to the life of snow removal equipment and bridges, thus saving taxpayers money. 

4) The environmental concerns about chlorides aren’t limited to plants. Chlorides are water soluble and end up in our lakes, rivers and stream. They especially impact plants and aquatic life in wetlands. All those tons of rock salt, calcium and other chlorides get flushed down our sewers and into downstream water systems. We should be concerned about where they end up.

5) When snows are heavy, the only thing you can do is plow or shovel. Applying any de-icer to a pile of snow is plain ineffective.

6) Beet juice, known by the trade name “Geomelt,” makes salt work at lower temperatures, too, but actually buffers the corrosiveness of rock salt, or any chloride for that matter. So you need a lot less, as much as 50 percent less. And since it reduces corrosiveness, it’s very safe to use around people, plants and pets.

7) There are a number of public works departments and counties in Illinois using Geomelt-treated products and actively reducing the amount of chlorides used in snow removal. Many are also spraying dry streets with Geomelt and salt brine. It’s called “anti-icing.” It keeps snow and ice from bonding to streets, so even less salt is used during winter storms.

In the interests of full disclosure, I distribute Geomelt products and have learned some things about eco-friendly snow removal. The Oak Park Public Works Department is changing its snow removal operations to be in line with best practices–environmentally smart while at the same time saving money and actually improving public safety by using new products and methods. As people who live in Oak Park, we should really be happy about that.

The days of the streets “running water” during every snowstorm are history, or at least they should be. And if we have to drive a little slower during bad weather, well, that’s a good thing too.

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