By: Angela Hu
As we enter the warmer season, one thing I know that I will certainly not miss is icy walkways. In the winter, snow and ice frequently cover our walkways and roads. From personal experience, I can attest that this makes driving and walking dangerous. Car tires might lose their grip, and everyone walks slower in order to avoid slipping and injuries!
The Most Common Solution: Salt
To make our walkways and roads safer, most of us use salt. Ice usually forms when the temperature of water is at 0 degrees Celsius. When one adds salt, that temperature drops: a 10 percent salt solution freezes at -6 C, and a 20 percent solution freezes at -16 C. This causes the surrounding ice to melt, which then spreads. In fact, you can test this yourself! If you put a grain of salt on a tiny piece of ice, you can see the area around the grain of salt melt immediately.
Drawbacks of Salt
Unfortunately, salt can affect water quality. When snow and ice melt, they wash away into lakes and streams or seep into groundwater supplies. A study found that more than half the wells sampled in East Fishkill, New York had levels of sodium that exceed EPA health standards. If salt water splashes off the road, it can erode soil and damage trees or plants. Animals such as birds may become attracted to the salt on roadsides. As a result, they are more likely to be hit by cars. Salt can also cause cracking on the paws of pets such as dogs on walks.
Even without these numerous drawbacks, salt is frequently sold out. Turning to other options may be a good idea.
Alternatives to Salt
Fortunately, there are a variety of innovative alternatives commonly available to melt ice.
Firstly, beet juice! The sugar from beet juice works in a similar way as salt to lower the melting point of ice. In fact, places like Calgary, Quebec, and Toronto have already used beet-juice mixtures in preparation for cold temperatures. While this method is generally safe for concrete, humans, and animals, there may be one downside. When beet juice makes its way into streams, the sugar can attract bacteria. These organisms feed off the oxygen that aquatic animals may need to survive.
The second alternative is alfalfa meal, which melts ice and provides traction due to its graininess. Commonly used as a fertilizer, alfalfa meal is natural and will not harm our ecosystems. On the contrary, plants and earthworms actually benefit.
Thirdly, the ash from fireplaces or coffee grounds can be effective ice melters. In addition to providing traction, the darker colours absorb more heat and help to melt snow and ice. The natural acidity of coffee grounds is an additional factor that melts ice. Used coffee grounds and the ash from burnt logs are typical waste products, so sprinkling them on ice is a great way to repurpose them!
All in all, salt use on roads and walkways can harm the environment and even our own pets. Other options are available, many of which involve items you may already have! The next time my driveway freezes over, I just might pull out a bucket of used coffee grounds.