Our Sustainable Campus - Campus lowering salt use on roads, pathways

By Brandon Watson
February 14, 2008

I would prefer not to use it at all," says Grounds Supervisor, Jim Galbraith of the salt used to de-ice campus' roads and walkways.

"It just seems to be one of those necessary evils."
And it is. Sodium chloride or common rock salt is a corrosive substance with the potential to damage infrastructure and stress plant life. It also has a tendency to travel. Brine, the water and salt mixture, can splash onto flower beds, lawns and run into streams. It's not the kind of stuff that you want to all over the nation's most attractive campus.
Managing this 'necessary evil' has Physical Plant's Grounds staff walking a fine line between safe surfaces and safe environmental practices.
"Our number one priority is to provide a safe campus. When people come off the city streets, they have an expectation that the campus is in similar or better travelling condition," says Galbraith.
In 2004, Environment Canada released a Salt Reduction Plan requiring all large businesses and organizations to cut back on their use of rock salt. The plan affected de-icing practices on campus by providing basic guidelines for applying just the right amount. This provided momentum for Grounds to seek more efficient and environmentally friendly practices.
For example, the salt now purchased on campus is treated with a magnesium chloride additive. The greatest benefit is that it continues to work in extremely cold temperatures. Once the thermometer dips below minus six degrees, most road salts lose their strength and some areas may need to be salted several times to compensate. Magnesium chloride-treated salt is effective up to minus 20 degrees, making a single pass often enough.
Another option being evaluated is an anti-icing spray technique. A liquid calcium chloride formulation is applied to ramps and walkways prior to snowfall to prevent ice from bonding with the concrete and paved surfaces. When applied as a preventative measure, it requires about half as much product as if it were used after a snowfall. The product also claims to be less damaging to grass, trees and shrubs.
Although still too premature to give a passing grade, Galbraith's team has seen positive results. Snow and ice removal has been easier and fewer deicing measures have been needed in the sprayed areas.
Caretaking Services is contributing to the effort, as well.
The paved areas around building entrances such as walkways and steps are generally maintained by campus and residence caretakers in the winter. You may have seen the curious green- and blue-coloured material in and around campus. This is a less harmful formulation containing potassium acetate and corrosion inhibitors. The colour is a product feature to let you know where you have treated, eliminating the tendency to over-apply. Similar to the liquid anti-icing product it is generally used prior to snowfall to prevent ice from bonding.
Galbraith sees de-icing methods as an emerging environmental hot topic with increasingly effective alternatives beginning to appear on the market. He has heard comments that some U.S. states plan to ban the use of rock salt on roadways in the near future.
As long as Grounds and Caretaking can provide a safe campus, Galbraith would have no qualms with that taking hold in Canada as well.
Brandon Watson is a communications officer in the Physical Plant.



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