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Front Page » January 22, 2004 » Local News » Properly applied deicer products reduce risks for injurie...
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Properly applied deicer products reduce risks for injuries, lawsuits

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Sun Advocate reporter

Property owners generally assume liability for potentially dangerous conditions created by snow and ice accumulation. Ice melting products work well when applied properly.

Carbon County residents have not witnessed the amount of snow that occurred in the valley around Christmas for a long time.

The remaining snow is melting, but clear skies bring vastly dipping temperatures at night, often into the sub-zero realm. The dichotomy of warm days and cold nights creates an ice problem.

Combating ice is a major problem for municipalities, businesses and residents.

In most towns, the rule is that when the snow flies it must be cleared off sidewalks surrounding any residence or establishment within 24 hours. Ice, however, is a different problem.

The two most common slip and fall accidents result from defects in the pavement and from accumulation of snow as well as ice.

The University of Alaska finished a study several years ago spanning from 1997 to 2002. The final report showed that worker compensation claims zoom upward during the winter season. Most of the claims have to do with slip and falls due to ice.

Similar studies indicate falls around private residences also go up during the winter.

The laws for ice removal from public sidewalks in front of a residence or a business vary from state to state and city to city.

But property owners are generally liable for injuries which occur due to dangerous conditions caused by ice and snow accumulation. Many legal settlements have been paid to victims by people who were supposed to keep walkways clear.

Ice melting products are an important preventative and protection tool.

First, by using an ice melting product, residents are showing "due diligence" by attempting to alleviate dangerous conditions.

Second, ice melting products work well when applied properly.

The debate about the use of ice melters seems to have reached an all-time high, with more brands on the market than ever along with various claims that muddle understanding.

Many newer melters are often blends of one or more common deicers, with additives that make the products somewhat unique.

For most people, what works the fastest in individual circumstances is the best. That was found to be true when 2,000 of the biggest buyers of deicers were surveyed in an independent nationwide study sponsored by Dow Chemical.

Participants rated ice melters by how fast the products work (44 percent), if they didn't hurt the concrete (21 percent), how they works at low temperatures (13 percent), if they track inside after being applied (13 percent) and if they are safe for plants (3 percent).

Basically, the study determined that people want an ice melting that works fast under all conditions and will not create new problems.

Experts in the field recommend that Carbon County residents should:

•Keep in mind that the products do not melt ice in solid form.

The solid must first penetrate the pavement and dissolve into a brine.

The lower freezing point of the brine breaks the bond between the ice and the sidewalk.

•Calcium chloride melts faster than other common products for several reasons.

Unlike rock salt, calcium chloride absorbs moisture from its surroundings and releases heat as it changes from a solid to a liquid.

In that way it, calcium chloride forms a potent brine more quickly.

•Despite common myths, most deicers do not chemically attack properly placed and cured concrete.

Damage to improperly constructed concrete is actually the result of the expansion and contraction caused by the repeated freezing of trapped water. As the number of freeze/thaw cycles increases, it can contribute to damage. Independent testing of commonly used deicers has shown that calcium chloride is the least harmful to concrete after 500 freeze/thaw cycles. To minimize the impact on concrete, ice and snow should always be removed promptly and any excess deicer swept away after the sidewalks have been cleared.

•Calcium chloride can be effective in cold-weather conditions down to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit. In comparison, rock salt is effective only down to 20 degrees. Urea, potassium chloride, and a 50/50 blend of rock salt and potassium chloride bottom out at about 25 degrees.

•Most deicers dry to a white powdery residue. This includes rock salt, urea, potassium chloride and blends of those materials. The two other deicers, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride, leave a clear brine solution. Mats at doors can help to control this, especially if those who are entering a home are reminded to "wipe their feet" before they come in.

• Thinking that using a fertilizer as an ice melter will keep plants from being damaged is a misnomer. All common deicers, even those used as fertilizers, have the potential to harm vegetation. The best way to protect trees, shrubs and grass is not to use too much. Keep in mind too that excess snow can damage bushes, another reason why treated areas should always be shoveled away from sensitive vegetation. Think ahead when planning a yard or a planting schematic. Prior to planting new areas, select trees, shrubs and grass that are less sensitive to deicers.

•The most important point is to realize why ice remover is being put down. Deicers are not intended to melt every bit of ice, although they may in some cases, and should always be used sparingly. For calcium chloride, it usually takes only two to four ounces per square yard to effectively undercut bonded ice and snow. In the end the goal is not to melt the ice entirely on a cold winters day, but to break the bond it has with the pavement so it can be removed, by shear brute force.

•Ice melters can be helpful for anyone to use, but the best way to keep ice off sidewalks and steps is to first shovel them as soon as it snows and to make sure down spouts on buildings do not create puddles where ice can form. Concrete condition, such as low spots or broken areas where moisture can accumulate can also be the prime cause of ice problems.

Keeping walks clear during bad weather can be time consuming and hard work, but it certainly beats the alternative a homeowner or someone else may face by being hurt in a fall on a slippery surface.

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