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Home News Conservative Use Of Chemical Deicers Saves Plants, Concrete

Conservative Use Of Chemical Deicers Saves Plants, Concrete

With the recent blizzard in the east, snow removal contractors and commercial building maintenance personnel are frantically spreading chemical deicers.

| January 27, 2000

Now that Mother Nature has surprised the East Coast area with up to 2 feet of snow from the recent blizzard, snow removal contractors and commercial building maintenance personnel are frantically spreading chemical deicers to clear sidewalks, paths, and parking lots.

Saving Plants and Vegetation
A major concern for these professionals is the residual effect next spring on adjacent soil where flowers, shrubbery and other vegetation will be growing.

According to research chemists at The Dow Chemical Company, Midland, Mich., chemical deicers should not harm plant life if they are used conservatively. As a matter of fact, they also point out, four of the main ingredients in most chemical deicers – calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride and urea – are all routinely added to soil to provide micronutrients; the only exception is salt. Of course, even fertilizers can cause vegetation browning or die back if they are over applied.

One common mistake, the Dow scientists say, is the overuse of deicing chemicals. Deicers should not be applied at rates high enough to completely melt snow and ice. This method uses too much of any deicer, is more costly than necessary and can damage vegetation. The proper way to use any deicer is to apply it at the rate recommended by the manufacturer, wait a few minutes for it to break the bond between the snow/ice and the pavement and then remove the snow and ice from the pavement.

Iowa State University’s Department of Horticulture has conducted studies over a two-year period to evaluate the effects of common deicing products on the turfgrass borders of sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. Although none of the deicers seriously affected turfgrass quality or color, calcium chloride pellets were shown to cause less change in vegetation quality or color when areas exposed to various deicers were compared to an untreated control area.

One of the reasons that calcium chloride has less effect on vegetation is that it is an especially efficient deicer. Less of it is needed to clear the same amount of snow or ice, thus minimizing the exposure of dormant plants to deicer chemicals. Because it works faster and melts more ice and snow, the recommended application rate for calcium chloride is lower than for other deicing chemicals. This means that a smaller amount of calcium chloride enters the soil since less deicer is necessary to do the same job.

Although calcium chloride is known by many brand names, it can be easily identified as small, round white pellets. Calcium chloride will always be identified, despite the brand name of the deicer, in the list of ingredients shown on the package. Calcium chloride deicers currently available on retail shelves include PELADOW® from The Dow Chemical Company, DRIVEWAY HEAT® from Prestone Products Corporation, QUICK JOE® from Milazzo Industries and SNO/MELT® from Standard Tar Products Company.

Saving Concrete
Most common chemical deicers do not chemically attack concrete, according to research chemists at Dow. But that’s only half the story, these experts are quick to point out. Concrete spalling is actually a result of pressure created within the concrete by the repeated freezing and expansion of water, followed by thawing and contraction of that same water, and then freezing again. This damage is much more likely to occur in poor quality concrete.

So the first key to minimizing concrete damage, the Dow scientists say, is to remove as much of the partially melted snow and ice as possible. By removing the slush with a plow or shovel, you’re not only making the surface safer for walking, you’re also removing much of the liquid that might refreeze if the temperature drops low enough. It’s the repeated freeze/thaw cycles that actually do the damage to concrete.

The next key, the Dow chemists go on to say, is to minimize the number of freeze/thaw cycles concrete is subjected to. In other words, if snow and ice are melted by a deicer and the slush is removed, if any remaining brine stays in the liquid form rather than refreezing when the temperature drops, the concrete will be spared another hard freeze, and thus the internal pressure that could be damaging.

This means selecting a deicer with the lowest practical temperature limit. A deicer's practical temperature limit is the lowest temperature at which sufficient deicing action occurs within a reasonable amount of time. Snow and ice melted by a deicer with a low practical temperature limit is much more likely to remain in the liquid form despite a temperature drop. The following table shows the lowest practical temperature for commonly used deicer materials.

Material

Lowest Practical Temperature

Calcium chloride

-25 degrees F

Magnesium chloride

+5 degrees F

Sodium chloride (salt)

+20 degrees F

Potassium chloride

+25 degrees F

Urea

+25 degrees F

50/50 mixture, sodium
chloride & potassium chloride

+20 degrees F

Some deicing products claim to be effective at melting snow and ice down to a much lower temperature, the Dow chemists caution. This lower temperature, known as the eutectic temperature, applies only to controlled laboratory test conditions and is not really valid in actual snow and ice melting. One way to make sure the deicer you have chosen is effective at low temperatures is simply to look at the list of ingredients, which must be shown on the package. Compare the lowest practical temperature in the above table with the ingredients listed on the package, and you’ll know at what temperature your deicer will refreeze, possibly damaging concrete, as the outdoor temperature drops.

Obviously, snow and ice melted by calcium chloride and deicers containing calcium chloride will remain in the liquid form longer when outdoor temperature dips to zero and below.

Courtesy of Dow Chemical Company.

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