Do de-icer products hurt the Chesapeake Bay?

By Ros Runner - bio | email
Posted by Phil Riggan – email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It's only been about a month since winter started, and already we've had our share of snow and ice. That means rock salt and other de-icers are being used to keep our streets, highways, driveways, and walkways safe.

Not all of these de-icers are good for our environment.

When snow or ice is in the forecast, VDOT is mobilizing its army of salt and sand trucks to clear the roads. Many of you are investing in de-icing products to help keep the walkways around your home safe.

Of course, these products are needed, but some of them are detrimental to the health of one of Virginia's most vital resources, the Chesapeake Bay.

"Salt can be very harmful for aquatic ecosystems, particularly fresh water ecosystems, but the biggest risk with de-icers is when they contain nitrogen, nitrogen is the #1 pollution problem in the Chesapeake Bay," said Kristen Evans with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Excess nitrogen causes a rapid increase of algae in the water which can be toxic to fish, trees, plants and other organisms vital to the health of the bay.

When nitrogen containing de-icing products are used, runoff from a moderate rainfall easily washes this material into storm drains, which ultimately carries it to the rivers, lakes and streams that feed directly into the Chesapeake Bay.

"We have learned from VDOT that they do not use de-icers with nitrogen and they in fact take steps to minimize the amount of salt that they put on the roads, which is good for all of us and it's certainly good for them because they are saving money on road salt," Evans said.

So what can you do to help out at home?

"Certainly the most important thing that an individual homeowner can do when they're going to purchase de-icer at the hardware store is look on the bag and make sure it does not contain a product called urea, U-R-E-A, that's the code word for it contains nitrogen.  If you can pick another product, that is a really important step in protecting the bay," Evans said.

Be sure to read the labels carefully. The ingredient urea will likely be in small print and could be easy to miss.

In reality, our combined efforts could end up preventing thousands of pounds of nitrogen from going into our waterways which in the end, will make a huge difference.

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