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Be smart with chemicals


A neighbor discovered the wonderful world of chemicals and how they react to different materials. In this case the material was their hands.

While out removing snow from their driveway and sidewalk, they put down some ice melt in the shaded areas to prevent ice from forming. Later they complained that the skin on their hands was dry and cracking and very sore.

They described the events that led up to their sore hands. They were out early shoveling, wearing hat, coat and gloves to stay warm and it took about an hour to clear the walks and driveway. The snow had some weight to it and they exerted themselves to remove it, otherwise they got a bit sweaty. They got a bag of ice melt from the garage to spread it out. They took off their gloves to reach in the bag to ‘flick the ice melt on the walk’. So, as you may have figured out, the sweat on their hands reacted to the chemicals in the ice melt causing the skin to dry out and crack.

When you are working with chemicals at work, and at home, you need to protect yourself from them.

  • Wear protective equipment such as gloves and eyewear to avoid contact with your skin.
  • Most chemicals have a warning label on the packaging, read them.
  • Use mechanical means to spread any type of chemical, ice melt, fertilizer, etc.

OSHA has a health and safety topic for chemical reactivity hazards with lots of good information for you.

From the website, “Chemicals have the ability to react when exposed to other chemicals or certain physical conditions. The reactive properties of chemicals vary widely and they play a vital role in the production of many chemical, material, pharmaceutical, and food products we use daily. When chemical reactions are not properly managed, they can have harmful or even catastrophic consequences, such as toxic fumes, fires, and explosions. These reactions may result in death and injury to people, damage to physical property, and severe effects on the environment. Process safety management (PSM) is used to prevent and mitigate chemical reactivity hazards.”

“Chemical reactivity hazards present serious, sometimes catastrophic danger to workers when the hazard is not thoroughly understood and controlled. Hazardous releases have resulted in fires, explosions, toxic, and/or high-energy events when chemical reactions have gone astray. Conducting safe chemical reactions is key to the chemical manufacturing industry and vitally important to employee health and safety.”

So what could they have been sticking their hands into?

Here is a list of different chemicals used to melt ice.

Name  Formula Pros Cons
Ammonium sulfate (NH4)2SO4 Fertilizer Damages concrete
Calcium chloride CaCl2 Melts ice faster than sodium chloride Attracts moisture, surfaces slippery below -18°C (0°F)
Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) Calcium carbonate CaCO3, magnesium carbonate MgCO3, and acetic acid CH3COOH Safest for concrete & vegetation Works better to prevent re-icing than as ice remover
Magnesium chloride MgCl2 Melts ice faster than sodium chloride Attracts moisture
Potassium chloride KCl Fertilizer Damages concrete
Sodium chloride (rock salt, halite) NaCl Keeps sidewalks dry Corrosive, damages concrete & vegetation

None of them is anything you would want to be putting your bare hand into.

Use your safety sense at home as well as on the job. Hazards are everywhere.


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