Green Tips: Managing Snow

Green Tips | February 3, 2021

New York has seen quite a lot of snow recently! While snowstorms are magical to watch, with the fluffy snowflakes gliding beautifully through the air, they can also be quite a pain to clean up. While we have devised approaches like salt spreaders and snow-blowers to ease the burden of managing snow, some of these methods unintentionally harm the environment. Read on to learn more about how to deal with snow in a more eco-friendly way.

Ditch the Gas-Powered Snow Blower

Since their advent in 1925, snow blowers have made the arduous task of cleaning up snow much less time consuming and labor-intensive. However, gasoline powered snow blowers have an impact on the environment. In fact, they produce the same amount of carbon monoxide in an hour that a gasoline-powered car does to drive 70 miles. Fortunately, there are ways you can cut down on this pollution:

About Road Salt

Like snow blowers, road salt has been used for a long time, since 1938 to be exact. Road salt is composed of a mineral called halite, which is what table salt (sodium chloride) is purified from. To make the road salt easier to distribute, other chemicals such as sodium hexacyanoferrate (II) and sugar are often added to it.

Road salt lends itself to a cool trick of chemistry. Rather than melting the ice itself, salt prevents melted ice from refreezing. As a result, the freezing temperature of water is lowered. This phenomenon is known as freezing point depression.

Although effective, this process lends itself to some pretty nasty public health and environmental impacts. Water with high concentrations of salt accelerates corrosion, damaging cars, bridges, and roadways. At best, this corrosion necessitates costly repairs, and at worst, it causes potentially-deadly structural failures. Because road salt works by being dissolved in water, it can increase the salinity of the water supply. For example, potentially dangerous concentrations of sodium have been found in over 50% of drinking water wells that were tested in East Fishkill, NY. This is especially concerning for individuals with health conditions such as high blood pressure. It is likely that over the course of decades, sodium leaches into groundwater before gradually making its way towards surface water, meaning that we haven’t seen the full extent of damage from the salt that has already been spread.

Road salt also seeps into nearby soils, throwing off their chemical compositions and disrupting nearby plant life. An accumulation of salt can harm aquatic ecosystems by causing oxygen depletion. Furthermore, chloride ions from the salt make their way into bodies of water, hampering the growth and reproduction of wildlife.

One area where these effects have been particularly felt is the Adirondack region of the state. Fortunately, Governor Cuomo recently signed into law the Randy Preston Road Salt Reduction Act this past December. The legislation outlines a pilot program in reducing the amount of salt spread on Adirondack roadways, while keeping the roads safe during icy conditions.

Using Snow Melt

Our best advice is not to use more deicing material than you think is necessary, because any deicer has the potential to harm the environment in large quantities. Also consider more environmentally-friendly rock-salt alternatives, including calcium magnesium acetate, calcium-chloride, or a blend containing calcium-chloride. Calcium magnesium acetate works best at temperatures above 15 fahrenheit, while the other two options are effective at lower temperatures. An alternative is to simply shovel the snow or use an electric snowblower.

Thank you for reading this week’s Green Tips. We hope you’re staying safe and warm during this snowy winter season!

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