According to Jan/san distributors, most facility executives in the snow states opt for the status quo when it comes to ice melt: a sodium chloride rock salt that is cheap, effective and easy to apply.

“What the facility executives care about is reducing slips and falls,” says Mark Petruzzi, vice president of Green Seal, adding that in that sense, rock salt does the job. “It’s cheap and it works — to a point.”

As building owners strive for LEED status, and custodial operations managers build their departments around environmentally sound practices, this pervading mentality is changing — and it’s only natural that ice melt manufacturers begin to follow suit.

But, standards on existing “green” ice melters are lacking. While some manufacturers have worked to develop a chemical blend that is both high performing and friendly to the environment, others have been charged with “greenwashing.” The void of information surrounding these products has made choosing a green ice melt especially confusing for buyers.

To ensure they are purchasing an environmentally-friendly product, custodial managers should look for a seal of approval, says Renae Hesselink, vice president of sustainability at Nichols Paper & Supply, in Spring Lake, Mich.

Less Harm To The Environment

Though it is a natural element and remains the standard deicing solution, sodium chloride (NaCl), or rock salt, is damaging to the environment.

The high concentration of the salt poses potential harm to the end user, and can have adverse effects on air and water supplies, aquatic life, wildlife and pets.

It can also affect facility maintenance efforts. When ice melt is applied to the areas surrounding a building it can be “detrimental” to concrete and steel, and harmful to vegetation, according to a comprehensive study by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

Generally, green ice melts — those with a significant reduction in sodium and chlorides, the two most environmentally distressing ingredients — mitigate these concerns, but the jury is still out on the most effective and least harmful green ice melt blends.

In addition to standard rock salt, there are five primary snow and ice control chemical alternatives including calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate, potassium acetate and urea. Green ice melt usually contains a mixture of these ingredients. However, the blends can vary widely, say distributors.  

Some manufacturers will tout a green ice melt product containing a sodium or chloride reduction of only 2 percent, while others contain a reduction of more than 30 percent. There’s also nothing to prevent a manufacturer from adding small traces of additives to basic rock salt and claiming greater environmental benefits. These so-called “green” blends may contain one of the more eco-friendly elements, such as magnesium chloride, but may not have enough of the ingredient to actually meet third-party standards.

With ice melt, chemical formulation matters just as much as main ingredients.

Lack Of Demand

One of the reasons standards are decidedly absent from the ice melt marketplace is because end users aren’t vying for green ice melt products. In a nutshell, certified green ice melt products are out there. But the caveat remains end users’ lack of interest.

Hesselink says distributors receive few requests for green ice melt from customers. The small group that is interested is typically made up of facility executives who are interested in achieving LEED status. The use of green ice melt counts toward a credit under the Building Exterior and Hardscape Management Plan in LEED-EBOM.

More likely, customers are concerned about the damage that rock salt can have on grass and plants, says Hesselink.

Because customers aren’t demanding green ice melt, manufacturers aren’t inclined to seek out green certification, and so far, just one organization — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — offers a third-party seal of approval.

The lack of demand is the reason why Green Seal, a major independent certifier, has refrained from prior requests for product certification. Despite a few phone calls, the level of interest toward green ice melt is wanting, says Petruzzi.

“For years people have been trying to find greener ways to deice. But, the cost is sometimes the only important factor,” he says.

Similarly, UL Environment, providers of the ECOLOGO seal, doesn’t offer a green ice melt certification. A spokesperson for the company says UL is supportive of innovations such as green ice melt, but hasn’t yet experienced a level of demand to substantiate the creation of a standard.

“While UL Environment does not currently have an ECOLOGO standard for green ice melt, if manufacturers demanded this, we would consider developing one,” says Angela Griffiths, UL director of research and advisory services.

STEPHANIE S. BEECHER is the associate editor of Contracting Profits magazine, a sister publication to Facility Cleaning Decisions.

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Green Certified Ice Melt And It's Effectiveness