Snow and ice, along with the use of de-icers, promise to be regular occurrences in the upcoming months. While preservation issues dictate many aspects of Riverwoods life, icy streets, driveways and sidewalks need to be treated to because they can be dangerous.  To prevent skids, slips and falls, many homeowners and communities choose to apply de-icing salt because it’s inexpensive and readily available. However de-icing salt/rock salt (sodium chloride), when transferred through snowmelt runoff and traffic spray, is toxic to animals, plant life, organisms living in the soil, and the aquatic environment.  De-icing salt also tends to cause corrosion and the rusting of steel used in most vehicles and the rebar in concrete bridges.

The damage to plants shows up in the following ways:

  • Salt deposited on small branches and buds causes desiccation and burn.
  • On evergreens, deposited salt causes browning or yellowing of needles.
  • Salt that migrates into the soil can poison plants through their root systems.
  • Salt damage is noticeable in the browning along leaf edges, stunted growth, fewer and small leaves, and flower and fruit reduction.

Also consider the impact of de-icers on animals, both domestic and wild.  Walking on de-iced areas may cause feral animals and pets to have dry, chapped, and irritated paws, leading them to lick themselves and ingest the de-icer.  It’s best to wash a pet’s paws when returning from a walk in salted areas.

Some local governments are using beet juice, a sugar-beet-molasses-based product, to increase rock salt’s ice-melting capacity when the two are mixed.  The mixture helps rock salt melt ice below its 15-degree limit, to as low as minus 20 degrees, and helps municipalities to melt larger amounts of ice and to clean up snow more quickly.  However, these mixtures can have an unpleasant smell and can stick to boots and equipment. Then there’s our Wisconsin neighbors who are using a by-product of cheese production to de-ice their roads and to keep snow and ice from sticking to roads before a snowstorm.

Riverwoods residents, including road associations, are encouraged to use the following approaches:

  • Reduce the amount of sodium chloride salt used by mixing it with sand, sawdust, or cinders.
  • Apply de-icer only after you shovel or plow to reduce the amount of de-icer used.

     – Avoid putting salt-laden snow on top of the root zones of plants.

     – Protect susceptible evergreens by making barrier fences (e.g., from burlap) to shield them from salt spray.

     – Select salt-tolerant trees and shrubs for trouble spots.

      – Apply pelletized gypsum on grass and plants near sidewalks and driveways to neutralize the effect of salt.