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Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved
For more information on ice melters, read my column in yesterdays Deseret Morning News.
If you strained your muscles shoveling the recent snowfall, you are probably thinking there is a better way. Think of a giant flamethrower to melt the snow or some magic fairy dust that would melt the snow where you did not want it but let pristine, fluffy snow remain in the other places.
Dream on! Get the shovel and keep shoveling because there is no such method.
Deicing is a public safety issue. No one wants wrecked vehicles, injured people, closed airports or other difficulties. Unfortunately, snow removal, damage and deicing salts cause millions of dollars annually in damage to vehicles, plants, pavement, and the environment.
Finding the best products and using them correctly is critical to keep the winter areas safe while preserving plants, pavement and necessities. Salt and plants never mix. While freshwater lakes have trees surrounding them, the Great Salt Lake is barren. The salt level is too high to let plant grow and the only organisms to survive in the lake are the brine shrimp. Deicing salt runs off onto the soil or splashes from vehicles and snowplows onto plants by the treated area. During spring and summer months, the soil salts reduce the water availability to plants and significantly increase water stress. This effect creates a chemical drought. Salts that are deposited directly on plant leaves burns and kill the leaves or the entire plant. These symptoms show where salts from winter maintenance damage evergreen trees and shrubs adjacent to roadways. Chemical deicing works because solutions containing salt freeze at lower temperatures than pure water. Pure water freezes at 32 degrees F, while water with dissolved salt freezes at lower temperatures. Deicing compounds melt the ice and creates a brine solution with a lower freezing point than pure water. This continues until the ice melts, or melting water dilutes the solution to a dilution where it re-freezes.
Sodium chloride or common table salt is a very effective ice melter. The supply is abundant, thanks to our lake so it is inexpensive. Unfortunately, it is highly corrosive and can damage plants and soils. Both sodium and chloride components in salts are very damaging to vegetation.
To get some information on what products are less likely to damage plants and soil, I contacted one of the local manufacturers of deicing compounds, the Morgro Company. Last season, Morgro produced 25 million pounds of ice melter. It shipped it throughout the United States, Canada and Sweden.
All of their products are salt based. Their Snow Plow product is salt mixed with three other products. Mixing magnesium chloride changes the freezing point of -6 degrees to -26 degrees. They also add a corrosion inhibitor and a nonstaining dye to mark how much they put down and where they put it. Their Ice Fighter Plus product contain polymers. These cut down on the moisture that goes into the concrete and that reduces concrete damage. It is easier to pay a little more for the product than it is to replace the concrete.
In addition to sodium chloride, there are the other products used for melting ice. Calcium chloride is highly corrosive but slightly less damaging to vegetation and soils than sodium chloride. It absorbs water from the air and will cake and irritate skin and eyes. Special storage and handling is required. Magnesium chloride has similar properties.
Potassium chloride is a fertilizer sold as potash (0-0-60). It is easy to handle and store but is highly corrosive but slightly less damaging to vegetation than sodium chloride. Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). CMA generally causes less damage to plants than the chloride salts; however, runoff degrades surface water quality. It is not as corrosive as chloride salts but costs as much as 40 times more than sodium chloride.
Urea and ammonium sulfate are deicers but may leach into water. In many areas, nitrogen salts are not approved for deicing because of these concerns. They are also very damaging to concrete surfaces because they form an acid solution and dissolve the concrete .