By Janeen Ellsworth
You, me and 100 million others are presently freezing our kachingas off during this powerful Polar Vortex of 2019, according to CBS News.
To stay safe, remain indoors. Work from home if you can. Sip tea. Watch movies.
That's about all January is good for anyhow.
But when you finally emerge from your dark, dank cabin--no doubt to ensure your friendly Amazon Prime guy doesn't slip and fall and break his neck on the ice all over your walkway when he comes to deliver your fleece-lined yoga pants--be sure to sprinkle only the safest ice melt product your family can afford.
But what in the heck is the safest product? When it comes to safety for the environment and safety for pets, the answer isn't always clear.
Rock Out With Rock Salt? Nahhh...
Sodium Chloride-based products, otherwise known as rock salt, are the most common kind. But they are corrosive to soil, toxic to plants, and can contribute to damage in the concrete by increasing the number of times the roads freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw.
My fellow Pittsburghers are all thinking about potholes and sink holes in our beloved streets...
But, according to studies reported by Peters Chemical Company, rock salt isn't even effective below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Which means that, even though rock salt is cheap, it's useless during the frigid temps we're experiencing right now.
Furthermore, rock salt is bad for dogs because of canine licking habits--it's bad enough they get it on their paws. It can cause serious skin irritation. But it's worse when they ingest it, causing potential gastrointestinal issues.
Some ice melts that claim to be "proven safe for pets" are anything but. According to Kate Hughes at PetMd.com, "Ethylene glycol-based ice melts contain the same active ingredient as antifreeze, which is very deadly if ingested."
You may find propylene glycol ice melts, then, but those come with problems for cats in the form of damaging red blood cells. Hughes reports that these use urea as the active ingredient.
Jigga-what? You read that right. If you're flashing back to junior high biology class, you're not alone. Urea is, in fact, a byproduct that comes from pee.
"While generally recognized as relatively pet-safe," she says, "[propylene glycol] is not as effective as other ice melt options, according to some chemical companies."
Magnesium chloride products are also available but, according to Peters Chemical Company, are worse for concrete roads. They cause "crumbling, fracturing and brownish discoloration" in short order. Over time, they gum up those machines people and trucks use to spit them out. You need more of the stuff to melt the ice, and it takes a long time to work.
So...the Winner Is?
Experts agree that Calcium Chloride-based ice melt products are safest and most effective for the environment.
They're less corrosive than their Sodium Chloride cousins, they work all the way down to 25-below-holy-crap-it's-frickin'-freezing-degrees, and they work faster than magnesium chloride or sodium chloride products.
*Note: The stuff with urea in it performed slightly more kindly to vegetation than Calcium Chloride, though less effectively on actually melting ice, according to Peters Chemical's reporting on studies done on farms in Iowa. So one can presume it's a bit safer for pets.
But either way, Calcium Chloride seems to be better when you want to satisfy both the environment and fur-ball friends.
If you want to totally nerd out on de-icing fun facts, read through the links throughout this article. They're full of numbers and chemical formulas that science geeks, like my friend Justin who spawned the question that gave birth to this story, would love to sink their teeth into.
Thanks, Justin, for suggesting I write this. And stay safe out there, everyone!
I'm Janeen; writer, mother, wife, and full-time, radical Reductionist. I share stupid-easy tips on how to save money while reducing your impact on the environment, & I'm committed to helping others live a life of simple sustainability.
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