SALT-ernatives – Green alternatives to toxic de-icing salt

As winter glazes us with dangerous ice and annoying slush, Park Slopers naturally reach for de-icing salt to keep us safe and dry. What could be so bad – salt is natural, right?

Think again.

While salt is an effective de-icer, it’s considered a possible pollutant under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) due to its toxic environmental effects. And when the chloride ions in salt mix with melted snow, the unhealthy runoff makes its way into the Hudson, affecting fish, birds, and coastal wildlife. It also settles into the soil and groundwater, where it reaches trees and other vegetation, the paws of pets, and children playing in the snow banks.

A healthier, low-salt diet

Recognizing the dangers of de-icing salt, hard core snow sufferers have gotten inventive, reaching for natural, local solutions. In Minnesota, they use sugarcane molasses, in Toronto and Illinois it’s beet juice. Cheese brine is hitting the roads in Wisconsin, while Iowans seem to favor garlic salt. What’s the go-to alternative for Brooklynites? Here are a few you might consider either alone, or along with salt-based deicers to lower their toxicity:

Sand provides great traction, is inexpensive, sweeps up easily, and is ecofriendly. Select “brick sand”, available at most building supply stores, for its coarse, granular texture. Another upside to sand is its “low albedo” – it absorbs sunlight and helps heat up the surface to melt snow. Downside: it tracks into homes.

Ashes from wood-burning fireplaces also provide traction and have a low albedo. Downside: dark color and heavy metals may harm food gardens.

Kitty litter also provides traction and is easy to obtain (especially if you have a cat.) Downside: more expensive and may turn to mush as snow and ice melt.

Urea is a commonly-used alternative, and while it is less toxic than conventional salt-based deicers, it carries environmental risks.

If you have any green ideas about keeping your stoop and sidewalk safe, please share them with us here or on Facebook.