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Enjoy reading unlimited content from the 2018 Newspaper of the Year, as awarded by the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

Enjoy reading unlimited content from the 2018 Newspaper of the Year, as awarded by the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

Enjoy reading unlimited content from the 2018 Newspaper of the Year, as awarded by the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

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A little salt on the sidewalk has long been used to break up ice to get to the pavement. Over-application of the product is not only wasteful, but harmful to lawns, trees and waterways. (Post Bulletin file photo)

Mitch Vestal was looking for a product to market that would help pet owners protect their critters’ paws from corrosive ice-melt products during the winter.

He found his solution (pun intended) in a non-corrosive brine used for years by organizations in the aviation industry to make clearing runways of snow and ice easier and to protect equipment from ice.

He markets the ice melt as “PlaySafe Ice Blocker,” a marketing-friendly term for calcium magnesium acetate (CMA). CMA is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid (the main compound found in household vinegar).

What at first was an idea for a niche market now has Vestal calling for a cultural change. It turns out the product could help reduce use of salts polluting waterways and hurting infrastructure.

A little salt on the sidewalk has long been used to break up ice to get to the pavement. Over-application of the product is not only wasteful, but harmful to lawns, trees and waterways. (Post Bulletin file photo)

There are five main types of ice-melt products people can use to help melt and clear ice from sidewalks, roads and driveways. Three contain some form of chloride.

However, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, a teaspoon of salt will make 5 gallons of water toxic to freshwater life.

Currently, 21 Minnesota lakes, 22 streams and four wetlands in Minnesota have unacceptable levels of chloride. Chloride salts can also harm soil and plants along roads and sidewalks.

Calcium chloride is the most commonly used ice-melting product. It melts ice at temperatures as low as minus-25 degrees. Rock salt (sodium chloride) is usually the least expensive de-icer and is effective in temperatures as low as 12 degrees.

However, of the five choices, it’s the most damaging to soils, plants and metals. The third salt-based product is potassium chloride. It can cause serious plant injury when washed or splashed on the foliage. All three contribute to water and soil pollution.

Urea is a liquid agricultural fertilizer that is sometimes used to melt ice. It’s only about 10% as corrosive as sodium chloride. However, it can contaminate the ground and surface water with nitrates and is effective to only about 21 degrees.

The fifth, CMA, is also a liquid and is most effective when spread before a snow or ice storm. It prevents ice from binding with the surface and either lets small amounts of ice roll off the surface or makes cleanup easier.

However, that’s where Vestal’s job becomes more difficult. Although CMA costs about the same for the amount of surface it treats as the other products, it’s almost engrained (yes, another intended pun) in our culture to grab a bag or pelletized ice melt before or after a storm and then salt the earth like a vengeful occupying army after the snow or ice comes.

Vestal said it’s time to start thinking about ice prevention before storms. He likens it to the state transportation brine trucks on the roads before a storm. Although the mixture they spread is usually a dilute salt, the concept is the same. Treat before, and cleanup is easier after.

John Molseed is a tree-hugging Minnesota transplant making his way through his state parks passport. This column is a space for stories of people doing their part (and more) to keep Minnesota green. Send questions, comments and suggestions to life@postbulletin.com.

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John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with degrees in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”

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