DuPage agency advises homeowners to use rock salt sparingly

Road salt is loaded into a spreader in Hinsdale this month. | File photo
Road salt is loaded into a spreader in Hinsdale this month. | File photo

The bag of rock salt a resident uses to melt the ice on his front steps or sidewalk may seem minuscule compared to the dump trucks full of salt people see on their village streets and the highways.

But the DuPage County Stormwater Management Agency wants residents to realize they can help reduce sodium chloride pollution of the area’s waterways and vegetation, with a few practices.

First, homeowners should shovel the snow before they spread rock salt or other de-icing material. Then they should apply just enough to remove the icy patches.

The salt that’s left after the ice is gone can be swept up and stored for reuse later.

Tony Charlton, director of stormwater management for DuPage County, recognizes there is a residential need for rock salt and other deicing materials.

“But without the support of our residents, the county’s efforts to reduce chloride pollution would not be effective,” Charlton said.

“Half of all the impervious areas, the hard surfaces in the county, are residential driveways, sidewalks, patios and roofs,” Charlton said.

As an example, he said if a place such as Yorktown Shopping Center reduced its use of chloride by 1 percent, it would have a major impact. While the amount of salt used for residences is more diffuse, he said there are just as much impervious surfaces in residential areas as in all the commercial and industrial combined.

The county holds seminars every fall teaching municipalities and large companies environmentally safe ways of removing snow and ice.

“The problem with chloride is, unlike other pollutants, there is not a way to remove it from the lakes and waterways,” Charlton said. “With oil, you can skim the oil.”

Other pollutants form sediment on the bottom where it can be collected and excavated.

“The best way to get chloride out of the waterways is not to put it in there to start with,” Charlton said.

Residents can reduce the amount of rock salt they use by not spreading any until a snowfall has stopped.

“There are some people who try to avoid shoveling altogether by spreading salt as the snow falls to keep melting it,” he said.

After the snow has stopped, if icy spots remain, Charlton suggests people who are physically able break up the ice and carry away the large chunks before spreading a deicer.

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County also limits its use of chloride deicing agents.

“We go in (with plows) and remove as much snow as possible,” said Richard Long, the forest preserve district’s grounds maintenance foreman.

He recognizes that the safety risk is not as great on forest preserve roads as on well-traveled streets and highways.

“We spot apply our de-icer on hills, curves and intersections,” Long said.

The forest preserve district uses a formula called Ice Ban M50, “which basically is 50 percent organic material,” Long said.

For most of its parking lots and roads, the forest preserve district sprays the Ice Ban on sand that is being spread from dump trucks. The sand provides traction.

In a few parking lots near offices and buildings where people do not want to track sand inside, the district sprays Ice Ban alone.

District workers have air sweepers they use to collect the sand from the roads when it’s no longer needed. Debris is sifted out of the sand, which then is stored for reuse.

Long is looking into a new product that is 100 percent organic and comparable in price to the product the district currently uses.

“We have to balance the financial end, too,” he said.

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