Historic blizzard tests Loyola’s eco-friendly winter budget

Just as Chicagoans thought they were out of the woods of winter, they were sucked back as the fifth largest snowstorm in the city’s history swept through northern Illinois.

Chicago was hit by 19.3 inches of snow during a 28-hour blizzard that started late Saturday and continued into Sunday –– still four inches less than the largest recorded snowstorm in 1967. Another 1-3 inches of snow were expected Tuesday.

Some students complained that Loyola did not cancel classes Monday, saying that it was difficult to navigate streets and sidewalks throughout the city and campus. CTA and Metra were experiencing around 30-minute delays Monday morning.

Sophomore Nilam Patel said someone she knows fell Monday because of the snow.

“Loyola should have canceled classes Monday,” said the 19-year-old psychology major. “The walkways around campus were clean, but not the ones down Winthrop Avenue. Plus, a lot of Loyola’s students are commuters and it’s unfair that they were forced to drive in those conditions.”

The storm pushed its way into the record books, but it hasn’t pushed Loyola away from its commitment to be environmentally sustainable.

“Loyola has been doing great things to reduce the impact of the salt we put down,” said Kelly Hof, president of the Student Environmental Alliance. “You may have noticed the [purple] salt on campus. This salt is less impactful to the environment and contains beet juice.”

Conventional road salt primarily harms plants closest to the areas being salted, but bodies of water can also be polluted by the increased concentration of salt levels. Beet juice is mixed with salt because it’s full of sugar, which is less harmful to plants than salt and helps melt ice, according to an article in Sanitary Maintenance Magazine.

“Salt is used as a safety precaution to reduce the risks of slip and fall incidents as well as automobile accidents,” Curtin said. “The campus has to be accessible to the campus community and there is often very little time to clear the snow and ice from a campus that runs from Granville to North Shore.”

In addition to beet juice salt, the university uses other environmentally friendly salts such as Landscaper’s Choice.

William Curtin, Loyola’s director of Environmental Services, said Landscaper’s Choice is a type of salt used on areas near vegetation because it is less harmful to plants. But even with this effort, Curtin said some areas will require new sod in the spring because of salt and tire damage.

In addition to the type of salt used, the university also stores salt in a covered area and uses it conservatively to reduce harm to the environment.

The salt –– about 20 tons –– is currently stored in a warehouse at 6317 N. Broadway. Loyola spends about $12-15,000 on salt and other deicers each year.

Aaron Durnbaugh, Loyola’s Director of Sustainability, said storing salt in a covered area, such as the warehouse Loyola uses, is how salt should be kept to prevent runoff. Runoff occurs when salt is stored in an open area and seeps into the ground. The University of Rhode Island estimated in 2012 that uncovered salt piles had a 20 percent runoff into local lakes and rivers.

Curtin is not sure how much salt the school has used this winter, because it does not salt until snow is completely removed. Salt is the most effective deicing method, Curtin said, but Loyola tries to only use it when needed.

“We try to keep the use of salt to a minimum, but there are times when salt or other deicing materials have to be applied,” he said.

Durnbaugh said shoveling, plowing and sweeping are all better alternate methods for snow and ice removal, but they can be expensive and aren’t as energy efficient as salt.

“Basically salt is a necessity, but [it] can always be used more thoughtfully [in order to] to conserve the resource, save money and lessen its impact on the environment,” Durnbaugh said. “The main thing we can do is to lessen our use and use appropriate salt for the weather.”

An article from WBEZ stated that Lake Michigan does not have worrisome levels of salt from deicing runoff. However, the Chicago River does. WBEZ said the vast majority of Chicago’s runoff ends up in its river instead of Lake Michigan because the city reversed the flow of the Chicago River about a century ago. This runoff flows into the Illinois River, then the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Salt is necessary,” Durnbaugh said. “[But] We can always be more thoughtful in how we use it, just like any resource, and work to change the general public’s expectation on what we consider a convenience. For example, do we need to have all sidewalks clear or maybe just some important ones?”

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