Where each type of ice melt should be used depends on what type of performance the consumer is looking for, says Jensen.
“They all work pretty well, but some work much better than others,” he says.
Rock salt is most commonly used by departments of transportation and local governments for clearing ice on highways. In those cases, cost tends to be the top concern because of the sheer volume of ice melt required.
Commercial users tend to favor calcium chlorides, blended or manufactured products. They are willing to pay a bit more for increased efficiency and the promise of at least slightly less damage.
Non-chloride products are far less popular. Due to expense, they’re typically used for specialty applications where corrosion can’t be tolerated, such as airport runways. Also, high-end buildings with expensive landscaping or residential facilities may choose non-chloride products to prevent damage to vegetation or injury to pets.
“There’s no government oversight of ice melt,” says Clemmer. “If your integrity is low enough to claim it, you can put it on the bag. It’s very common to put ‘safer for the environment’ on a bag of a chloride salt. Putting an ‘-er’ at the end of ‘safe’ gives a lot of latitude. Safer than what, nuclear waste? There’s a lot of unsubstantiated claims, which leads to distribution confusion and end user complaints.”
As concern about the environment continues to grow, however, more end users are likely to question the safety of ice melt products. Chloride salts could lose favor when people better understand how they can damage water and soil, especially when overused.
Already, some municipalities will issue certain building permits only if a facility contains its chloride runoff. Also, several states are considering ways to encourage facilities to switch to safer alternatives. This includes potentially providing some degree of protection against frivolous lawsuits to facilities that are reducing chloride pollution.
“The best practice is to make sure your portfolio includes a variety of options for your customers — chloride and non-chloride, granular and liquid,” says Clemmer. “I don’t think you’re doing your customers a service if everything you sell is a granular chloride, but that’s almost exclusively what I see happening.”
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