Homeowners encouraged to consider alternatives to salt to de-ice

By: Maddie Forshee | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published January 5, 2018

Shutterstock image

WEST BLOOMFIELD — When it snows, many homeowners reach for rock salt to de-ice their driveways and sidewalks to make them safer and easier to use, but not many homeowners know the environmental impact that rock salt can have. 

West Bloomfield Township officials are urging residents to think twice before using rock salt as a way to get rid of the ice around their homes this winter. 

While salt can be an effective way to melt and manage ice on driveways and sidewalks, it can be dangerous to the environment. When snow and ice melt, they combine with the salt, which can run off into nearby storm drains and end up in streams, rivers and lakes. This increase in salt in natural habitats can be detrimental.

“The sodium buildup in the soil and the waterway adds salt and calcium chloride to surface waters and wetlands,” said Marshall Labadie, development service director for West Bloomfield Township. “Most plants don’t do well to handle that type of pollution.”

Labadie said that increased salt levels make the habitat susceptible to weeds and invasive species and can even kill off plants and animals living there. 

As an alternative, township officials are encouraging homeowners to use brine, a salt solution that homeowners can make themselves. Brine can be sprayed onto surfaces before a storm, which gives residents more control over application so they won’t have to reapply it as much as rock salt. 

“We like to find alternatives that produce less salt pollution to our waterways,” said Labadie. “With the number of lakes and ponds we’re trying to protect, we’re impairing their abilities to be healthy.” 

In addition to using rock salt alternatives, Labadie said township officials try to find more salt-tolerant native species, like grasses and plants, to plant along roadways so the salt won’t harm the plants. 

“Salt can have a negative effect on the local environment, specifically with water quality in habitats,” said Eric Diesing, an environmental scientist with the Clinton River Watershed Council. “That can make it hard for plant and water life to survive.” 

Diesing said that pollution from rock salt is a common occurrence around Michigan due to the harsh winters. Diesing recommends using sand on snow to gain traction on driveways, as well as coffee grounds and cat litter.

He said that if homeowners can’t switch to a rock salt alternative, they can reduce their salt use by trying to remove as much ice from a driveway or sidewalk as possible, then using less salt than usual if it’s still needed.