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One can actually use too much salt

February 17, 2010 @ 12:55 By: gordon Category: Environment, General

Salt is a popular way to get rid of ice that’s formed on sidewalks and roads. The City of Ottawa applies tonnes of salt to Ottawa’s roads and sidewalks every winter. So much, in fact, that a few years ago they started using brine solutions and pre-wetting the rock salt because both are more effective than dry rock salt and result in less salt being used, which is a Good Thing.

From a driver’s point of view, salt is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it results in safer roads and a curse because it can damage cars. From an environmentalist’s point of view, it’s a real problem because it can have a serious impact on the plants and animals it comes into contact with.  From a building owner’s point of view it’s also a a mixed blessing: No ice means people aren’t going to sue you, but at the same time it can quickly damage concrete and cement.

But some building owners seem to be sacrificing the longevity of their buildings at all costs. Last week, one building I walk by every day on my way to work had almost a solid layer of salt on all of the steps and walkways. Salt was building up in the corners and you could see it creeping up the concrete, outlining every crack and crevice. Yesterday, I noticed bright new patches of rust on some of the railings that were caked in salt, so it’s starting to eat away at them, too.

True, the building has absolutely no ice problems, but that less because of the salt and more because there hasn’t been a lot of ice this winter. If they keep this salt application strategy going, they’re not going to have much of a building left.

I’m wondering how they’re going to clean up all their salt when spring finally arrives. Hopefully, they’ll be responsible and scoop it up to be used next winter rather than getting the pressure washers out and washing it down the storm sewers. Already you can see trails from the runoff from their property leading to the sewers.

3 Responses to “One can actually use too much salt”


  1. XUP says:

    How about that environmentally friendly ice melter stuff? Is that too expensive to use or what? It works really well and won’t harm plants and animals or your cars. I don’t understand why that isn’t used instead of salt.

    • gordon says:

      I think that pound for pound it’s quite a bit more expensive than good ol’ rock salt. Because they’re more effective that rock salt you end up using less ice melter than the amount of salt you’d need to deal with the same amount of ice. And I think they’re often effective to lower temperatures than rock salt, which is also good.

      According to the City’s website, they use sodium chloride and calcium chloride brines as part of their ice management strategy. They also pre-wet the salt before spreading it. Both of these result in them having to use less salt.

      But they also use grits (sand, rock flakes and the like), which don’t have a significant environmental impact and can be vacuumed up and reused in the spring.

  2. Ken says:

    I use a product from Canadian Tire that’s made out of beets. Seriously. It stinks like nobody’s business, but it’s very effective. And yes, to answer your question, XUP – it’s quite a bit more expensive. If memory serves, for the 10-ish pound bucket I bought, I could have bought 2 or 3 bags of salt, weighing about 10 lbs each.



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