Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is Campus On A Low Sodium Diet?

Treated salt is identified by it's blue-ish hue

Our campus is nestled on the banks of the Thames River among the naturalized canopy of the Sherwood Fox Arboretum. Our buildings and associated infrastructure are steeped in heritage and date back nearly a century. As stewards of these gems, Facilities Management is constantly seeking better ways to protect Western's built and natural assets.

But this amazing historical landscape isn't our only priority. In fact, we have a greater commitment to the protection and safety of the people who visit, study, research, and work on our campus everyday.

And there is the dilemma - stuck between the rock (salt) and a hard place.

Now-retired manager of Landscape Services used to cringe when talking about the salt needed to protect pedestrians and motorists on campus, often - if not always - referring to it as 'the necessary evil'. And that's exactly what it is. It is the most effective way to keep roads, lots, and walkways clear during freezing and thawing cycles. However, wet rock salt, aka brine, is an aggressive composition with corrosive traits that can stress localized plant life. It is also destructive to metals and concrete, wreaking havoc on our vehicles and our buildings.

We have put the alternatives to the test.

Sand and ash have been ineffective, even after several applications - and - these methods create a new problem. The melting snow and sand/ash mixture spreads throughout buildings as foot traffic picks it up and brings it in through the entrances. The result is a never ending mess for our caretakers in Building Services. Salt stains are bad enough, adding dirt only makes it worse.

Liquid brine applications are used as a preventative measure to reduce ice binding with asphalt and concrete. The mixture requires completely dry surfaces and must be sprayed shortly before a snowfall or risk being washed away. The limitations make the procedure unreliable, time consuming, and wasteful.

Miracle ice melters? There are several brands of products that will melt ice and claim to be better than rock salt. However, they are essentially similar in composition and, because sold in smaller quantities, tend to be significantly more expensive than bulk purchases of rock salt.

Initiatives to reduce salt.

Facilities Management crews continue to distribute treated salt. Sodium chloride mixed with magnesium chloride improves ice-melting effectiveness at lower temperatures, requiring lighter applications.

Crews are certified in and continue to follow Smart About Salt training. Smart About Salt is a recognized body that provides awareness and guidelines for reducing road salt application for large institutions and municipalities. The program has influenced hand-salting procedures and has led to calibration of our salting machinery.

This year, Facilities Management crews are focussing on mechanical snow and ice removal. More crews are being deployed with shovels and plows to lift the snow/ice and salt is be used sparingly as a final measure. Dangerous areas that collect moisture and/or typically freeze over will continue to be salted - again, fulfilling our commitment to the campus community.

Western student paper, The Gazette features FMs salt use on campus; http://www.westerngazette.ca/life/why-you-so-salty-western/article_15dd33b0-bbe5-11e5-89d5-b72048cf6c39.html

FM announces use of treated salt in Western News (p.7); http://news.westernu.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/11/WNews-Feb14-08.pdf

FMs Salt reduction featured on Western's Sustainability website; http://www.uwo.ca/fm/initiatives/sustainability.html#salt

To report an icy spot or trouble area, please contact Facilities Management's Client Services at fmhelp@uwo.ca or 519-661-3304.

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