The University Record, February 27, 1996

Pilot program investigates de-icing alternatives

By Matthew Thorburn
News and Information Services


This winter the Salt Use Quality Improvement Team, an interdisciplinary task force, is testing several alternative de-icers on campus. The team's goal is to establish and promote the best management practices for de-icing that minimize deterioration to buildings, infrastructures and the environment without compromising the safety of the University's students, faculty, staff and guests.

"The salt team brings together the key stake-holders who are affected by these issues," says Mark Cornwell, senior horticultural assistant and salt team leader. Team members include representatives from the Department of Public Safety, Office of the General Counsel, Risk Management, Grounds Management, Parking Maintenance, Building Services, Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, and Plant Construction. Organized by Plant Operations, the salt team grew out of a group project initiated at the Business and Finance Management Institute. Following the project, more study was encouraged, and the present team was formed to address de-icing issues on campus.

Currently, the salt team is testing CF7, a potassium acetate de-icer used on airport runways, to replace the salt and sand normally used at Mott Hospital and on top of the Hospital's parking structure. "The pilot program began a month ago, but we haven't had a big snow storm to really test it yet," Cornwell says.

The salt team plans to track the use of CF7 to see how it compares to other deicing methods in terms of environmental concerns, economic issues and, most important, safety concerns.

A pilot program team at Beaumount Hospital in Royal Oak found that CF7 has several key advantages over salt and sand. Unlike salt, CF7 apparently does not present the environmental hazard to rivers and watersheds that excessive salt use causes. Also unlike salt, CF7 doesn't pose a threat to campus landscaping. In addition, salt applied to building entrances and parking decks leeches through concrete, gradually eroding steel reinforcements and necessitating earlier replacement---an important economic consideration.

"The prevailing thinking is that salt is the cheapest de-icer," Cornwell notes, "but for every dollar invested in salt, you may be incurring as much as $50 in damage." Campus locations damaged by salt use include the north exterior steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library, the front steps of Hill Auditorium, and the planters at the east and west entrances to the Rackham Building.

Damage to parking decks poses another serious safety problem, as salt-related corrosion can lead to falling chunks of concrete. Sand is commonly applied to parking decks but is difficult to clean up, clogs storm drains, fills up retention basins and degrades water quality. CF7, applied with a spray rig, avoids the nuisance of sand altogether, eliminating the mess and the many work hours of post-de-icing cleanup.

While alternative de-icers initially cost more than salt, the possible reduction in work hours and the potential savings in damage repairs suggest that they may be viable alternatives to currently used de-icers. CF7 is one of several de-icers the team plans to test.

While salt and sand present numerous problems and CF7 seems to present possible solutions, team members will not make any decisions until all results are in.

As Lynette J. Kosky, legal assistant at the Office of the General Counsel, states, the salt team "is committed to finding the best way to apply de-icing materials to walkways on campus, balancing safety, pedestrian responsibility and protection of the environment."