Facilities changes the way it deals with snow & ice on sidewalks

Pedestrians have noticed something is different as they have made their way around the sidewalks on the Albion College campus this winter.

The feeling of rock salt under the foot and the auditory sense of the crunch with each step has been replaced by clear sidewalks that are just wet since the facilities operations department began spraying a solution of 26 percent liquid calcium chloride mineral brine.

"It messes with your senses," grounds supervisor Mark Frever said. "The calcium chloride cuts through the ice and creates a Teflon-like surface which doesn't allow snow to bond to the concrete. The ice footprints left by those who pass before the walks were treated have not been around this winter. The sidewalks are just wet now instead of having wet sidewalks with this granular feeling underfoot.

"By moving to brine we have taken out the step of having to wait for rock salt to get wet to do its job as a de-icer," Frever added.

Frever noted that applying a calcium chloride spray to melt snow and ice is nothing new as road crews have been using the liquid to keep ice from forming on bridges and overpasses. Using calcium chloride on a smaller scale like the college's sidewalks was cost prohibitive until recently. Frever located a company in Saint Louis, Mich., that gets its brine source from natural gas. The company takes the additional step to extract the oil to make a de-icing solution.

After contacting the company to supply to calcium chloride, the facilities staff found a tank to hold the chemical and added a sprayer to carts already used by the college. Spraying the calcium chloride has allowed for better precision and the addition of a hose allows the facilities staff to reach challenging areas like steps and handicap-accessible ramps.

"I got calls about putting too much salt down in the past," Frever said.

Using calcium chloride to clear the walks has also taken a literal load off the backs of the facilities staff who appreciate filling up the tank instead of loading 50-pound bags into spreaders. Frever noted that it took 147 bags of salt - or three pallets - to treat campus sidewalks for each snow event.

The calcium chloride could also have application at Albion beyond the winter. Any liquid remaining can be used in the spring and summer to control the dust kicked up by vehicles approaching the Whitehouse Nature Center via Farley Drive.

While the application of calcium chloride is transforming the way Albion clears the sidewalks, traditional salt is used to treat the parking lots and buckets of salt are available at the entrance of major campus buildings for staff to use if conditions warrant.

"The calcium chloride system had to prove itself before we could explore its application to the lots," Frever said. "For the health of my staff, my goal is to move to all liquid snow removal, but there is the expense of a larger spray system."