For jan/san distributors selling products to customers in the nation’s snow states, the sales conversation surrounding ice melt is a short one. Most customers opt for the status quo: a sodium chloride rock salt that is cheap, effective and easy to apply to parking lots, roadways and sidewalks.

“What the facilities maintenance guys 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 building service contractors build their businesses 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 selling an environmentally-friendly product, distributors should look for a seal of approval, says Renae Hesselink, vice president of sustainability at Nichols Paper & Supply, in Spring Lake, Mich.

“I always tell salespeople, if you promote a product that is third-party, green certified, then you’ll never have to defend your recommendations,” Hesselink says.

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.

In the case of ice melt, chemical formulation matters just as much as the main ingredients.

“There’s just not a huge pool of manufacturers who make this product,” says Petruzzi. “They make their own [green] claims.” 

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Low Consumer Demand For Green Ice Melt Products