Our Sustainable Campus - Campus lowering salt use on roads,
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
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
"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
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
Caretaking Services is contributing to the effort, as
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
Brandon Watson is a communications officer in the Physical
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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