January 2017: Working Toward a New Granite State Label: No Salt Added

Date: January 03, 2017

For most people, salt has become synonymous with snow and ice removal. You see plow trucks salting the highways and you get your own salt to deice your driveway and walkways. It’s just what you do. Well, there are a lot of people in New Hampshire working to move the state away from all of that salt.

In the 50 years since salt became the option du jour for melting ice and snow on highways and roadways, dramatic and rising concentrations of chloride have been identified in New Hampshire waters, a trend that has been seen in colder regions of the U.S. and Canada. In 2008, New Hampshire listed 19 chloride-impaired water bodies under the Clean Water Act. In 2012, that number increased to 46. In several watersheds analyzed in the southern I-93 corridor, more than 50% of the salt load comes from private roads and parking lots. The other major sources are state and local roads and highways.

The problem with heavy salt use is two-fold: 1. Chloride easily gets into the water system because it doesn’t absorb into soil; and 2. Once the chloride is in the water it cannot be significantly removed. Therefore, nearly all of the chloride applied to the land surface as road salt will eventually end up in the nearby surface waters or groundwater.
High concentrations of chloride can be toxic to some aquatic species, and can make drinking water not only taste salty but become a danger for people who need to be on a low-sodium diet, such as those with hypertension.

Hire a Green SnowPro

The only way to prevent chloride from reaching surface and groundwater is to reduce the amount applied to our roadways, parking lots and sidewalks without compromising safety.  That’s where the Green SnowPro training program comes in. Snow removal contractors can take the University of New Hampshire Technology Transfer Center (UNH T2) course that focuses on efficient, more environmentally friendly winter maintenance practices, after which they are eligible to become NH Certified Salt Applicators.

You can help minimize road salt use in New Hampshire by hiring one of these contractors. But if you already have a loyal contractor, urge them to go through the program. Along with protecting our water supplies, you will be reducing your liability. Under state statute, certified applicators and those who hire them are granted liability protection from claims arising from snow and ice conditions (slip and fall claims). For more information about the training program, visit the UNH T2 webpage.

Melting at home

Salt reduction isn’t only for our highways and byways. Using salt at home for melting ice and snow can have adverse effects as well, albeit on a smaller scale. The salt you use can still dissolve and run off into nearby water bodies, but it also can hurt your pets, garden and belongings. Salt can get on your pets’ paws and cause cracking; it corrodes metal and damages concrete; and it wreaks havoc on a garden and lawn.

Here are a couple of alternatives to salt for melting ice and snow at home:  Keep in mind that if you live near a waterbody, even some of these remedies may have unwanted impacts to the quality of water by adding too many nutrients. 

Organic, Salt-free De-icer: It’s a little pricier than salt, but it will help to keep your walkways and driveways ice-free.
Alfalfa Meal: It’s 100 percent natural, and is usually used as a fertilizer. It’s grainy so it will provide traction and is extremely effective when used in moderation.

Sugar Beet Juice: The juice from sugar beets lowers the melting point of ice and snow, which helps to clear your driveway. It’s even being used in some towns and cities. It’s safe for animals, people, metals, concrete and plants.

Coffee grinds: Sprinkle coffee grinds over your icy surfaces to provide traction, and the darker colors absorb more heat and help to melt snow and ice.

Homemade mixture: Mix one teaspoon of dish soap, one tablespoon of rubbing alcohol and ½ gallon of hot water. You can use more rubbing alcohol, if needed. 

Snowmelt mat: Made of electric wires, this mat heats from underneath.

Heated mats: Stays on the surface of the desired area, and melts snow and ice.

If you must use salt on your driveway or walkway, be sure to use it sparingly and only where needed. Shovel the snow thoroughly first and sweep or clean up any excess salt or spills.

For more information on the NH Green SnowPro program or salt reduction in general, visit the NHDES Road Salt Reduction website or find NH Green SnowPro on Facebook.