Rock salt has long been a common choice when it comes to clearing away ice and snow from outdoor surfaces, due to its affordability, availability and ease of application. However, the longer-term effects of using it are far from ideal and can outweigh any short-term benefits by a considerable margin.
Rock salt, or sodium chloride, contains strong chemicals that react with the ground and low temperatures to melt ice back into water. In so doing, it renders a slippery surface safer to walk or drive on in sub-zero temperatures. These chemicals can cause a great deal of harm, not just to the surfaces themselves, but to the people and animals walking on them, as well as the wider environment and ecosystem.
As a country, Britain has long had a right to be proud of its strong civil engineering heritage, creating road networks and structures that have lasted for decades, if not centuries. Now, rock salt is putting this all at risk with its corrosive nature. Damage caused by excessive use of rock salt can lead to unusable roads, long traffic jams, compromised vehicles and risks to the economy if people cannot get where they need to be, or are held up or put off altogether from travelling for business.
Even if applying rock salt achieves an element of short-term ice melting success on the roads, the effects don’t last for long and are ineffective during heavy snow.
There is plenty of evidence around proving that sodium chloride can seriously damage all kinds of exterior surfaces and construction materials, including concrete, stone, brick and asphalt. It can cause cracks, chips and dips in the road that turn into pot holes and larger fractures that lead to tyre punctures and damage to a vehicle’s chassis.
Rock salt can also be thrown up by moving vehicles and stuck to their underside. Over time, it weakens and corrodes the metal with which it has come into contact. Salt that has been spread on or near buildings and structures, such as bridges or steps, can also cause them serious harm if left on too long.
The wider environment
Quite apart from damaging surfaces, rock salt is also highly toxic for the environment and the delicate ecosystems that surround treated pavements, roads and driveways. Unlike other, granular de-icing products, rock salt is made of larger crystals that stay on the surface for ages while working to melt the ice beneath. It is not biodegradable, and the crystals tend to be walked, brushed or swept away by the melted ice into the surrounding soil and on into the groundwater beneath.
Just as we are all being encouraged to live more responsibly and sustainably through reduced use of plastics, lower food miles and smaller carbon footprints, so too must we take care when choosing how to de-ice our exterior surfaces and take account of where products end up after they have done their job.
Once rock salt enters the groundwater, it alters the composition of the soil and can adversely affect the plants that rely on it for efficient growth. This kills them, or stunts their growth, thus reducing food and shelter options for the resident insects, birds and small animals.
Plants that have been damaged by rock salt show signs of underdevelopment, delayed budding, browning leaves and scorching. The salt can also enter nearby water sources, such as ponds, lakes, rivers and streams, thus affecting fish and other marine life. And, so it goes on, affecting and exposing the entire food chain to toxic risks.
Children and animals
It’s not just the wildlife that we must take care of and avoid exposing to rock salt. Our children and pets can be put in equal danger if we don’t take care of our actions when de-icing frosty surfaces. Pets such as cats and dogs have delicate paws that can be injured when they are overly exposed to rock salt. Taking a dog for a winter walk can end up with their paws sustaining painful burns or skin irritations after coming into contact with rock salt.
Symptoms of exposure include soreness, redness and itching. The crystals themselves are sharp too, which can break the skin’s surface and allow the chemicals to enter the bloodstream. Consequently, your pet’s blood sodium concentration could rise to dangerous levels, potentially leading to lethargy, thirst and kidney damage.
Dogs and cats tend to be fastidious when it comes to personal hygiene and will lick themselves to keep clean. It is very hard to get rock salt out of fur, as it has a habit of
sticking to whatever surface it finds itself on. Many cats, dogs and even rabbits also enjoy drinking from puddles whenever they get the chance. This all leads on to rock salt entering their digestive tract and causing stomach upsets, vomiting, drooling and thirst. A whole range of problems that could end up with your pet suffering needlessly and your wallet taking a significant hit at the vet.
Children can also become unwitting victims of rock salt exposure. Contact with rock salt can lead to soreness, redness and irritation in people of all ages, causing additional problems for children with existing skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis. Children frequently put their hands to their face and mouth too, raising the risk of them ingesting the salt and experiencing stomach or digestive problems as a direct result.
Finally, children love to play in the frost and snow, and will be the first to throw snowballs, make snowmen and trek snow indoors on their boots and shoes, potentially spreading rock salt all over the house and adding to the housework burden. Rock salt can burn holes in carpets and rugs if walked inside. The key here is strict adherence to washing hands, removing boots, coats and gloves at the door and working to keep rock salt out of the home and away from people’s skin and mouths as much as possible.
What’s the alternative?
The good news is that there is no need to stick to rock salt for de-icing frosty and icy surfaces. EcoGrit Concentrate is an organic, biodegradable and safe alternative that won’t damage surfaces or leak toxic chemicals into the ecosystem. The granules are non-corrosive, fine and highly effective, working at lower temperatures than rock salt for up to seven days. They will not harm children, pets, local plants or wildlife, making them ideal for use on any exterior surface. Additionally, because it’s soluble, it can be made into a spray to use on metal climbing frames, drain covers and handrails.
EcoGrit Concentrate can be applied in advance of any ice appearing too, allowing you to prepare for sub-zero temperatures in plenty of time. Find out more and order your supplies today at ecogrit.co.uk.
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