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Ice removal poses challenge

BY HEATHER MOYER | Boston, MA | December 11, 2000

Whether crippling entire cities, posing highway danger, or making driveways impassable, ice is a winter hazard that countless people face.

What's the most effective -- and environmentally friendly -- way to remove it? Many people still use rock salt to melt ice on their property, but some experts report that other products are more effective and safer for the environment than salt. An excess of salt can kill the nearby vegetation as well as seep into groundwater and local waterways, disturbing the ecosystems.

Calcium chloride is a product that's being touted by its sellers as the most effective for melting ice, the safest for nearby plants, and easier on the roads and your car.

"Calcium chloride is the better way to go," says Michael Wares, vice president of Orange Products. Orange Products is a North Carolina-based company that specializes in environmentally friendly cleaning and de-icing products. "Many cities are changing to calcium now because it's not as bad on their equipment or on the roads as salt is."

Calcium chloride can be used in pellet or liquid form, and Wares said many cities use it in the liquid form. Calcium chloride is hydroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. And it's exothermic, meaning it releases heat as it melts. It lasts longer, and it has a lower melting point than salt.

Wares said that when used correctly, calcium chloride is not expected to have any adverse effects on the environment, either.

He added that the average person normally just uses rock salt because it's significantly cheaper than most calcium chloride products.

Dan Glas of Kalamazoo Landscape Supplies in Kalamazoo, MI, agrees. "(Calcium chloride) is about three times as expensive as rock salt. There's no question that it's friendlier to walkways and plants or that it's safer and more effective, but we don't sell much of it here," said Glas.

Glas said a cheaper product that's still safer and more effective than salt is potassium chloride. Costing only about two times what rock salt does, Glas said he does sell more of it than calcium chloride.

But not everybody sees calcium chloride as the best thing for the roads or for the environment. Judy Barber of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection says calcium chloride can damage concrete surfaces. She also added that it's not completely environmentally friendly, but also that no products out there really are.

"While there are products out there that do try to be more environmentally sensitive, there's really not much available out there in good environmental ice melters," Barber said. She said that the best way to check if a product is safer for the environment is to read the label, as many of the products do advertise how environmentally safe they are.

Another negative effect of calcium chloride is that it can irritate the skin. Wares said that if used as directed, though, it is not expected to have any adverse effects. The safety warnings on the containers for most calcium chloride products instruct the user to wear gloves when applying and to wash one's hands when done.

Other suggestions of ways to effectively melt snow and ice include using a combination of salt and sand or using birdseed. While birdseed won't necessarily melt the ice, it does offer traction and a bit of a snack for hungry winter birds.

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