Check out environmental claims for deicers, urges industry vendor
Procurement, highway department and public works managers need to check out claims made by deicer manufacturers, says Pete Benoit, CEO of Frederick, Md.-based VETcorp, Inc. Along with other public works chemical-related products, VETcorp supplies bulk and bagged deicing products, including rock salt, to public works and other government departments. The firm mainly sells and contracts with the federal government, with prime contractors that maintain federal sites, as well as with state governments.
For the past few years, Benoit’s firm has been receiving inquiries from prospective government customers about “green” deicing or snow removal products. “So,” says, Benoit, “we spend a lot of time evaluating green products or so-called green products.”
What he and his staff have found is that there is a lot of misrepresentation going on in the industry. “Many companies are simply re-packaging typical magnesium chloride or sodium chloride, but doing so in bags that lead the purchaser to believe the products are ‘green.’ Literally most (90 percent) of the green products we evaluated had nothing green about them at all. These companies would put the product into a bag or container that appeared to be ‘Green’ or ‘Eco-Friendly’ with a brown or green label, and with words like ‘non-toxic,’ ‘environmentally friendly,’ ‘Green,’ or ‘Natural’ or similar eco-friendly terms, but when you actually located a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product or a list of ingredients, [we found] that the products were not green at all.”
When VETcorp’s staff asked deicer suppliers about the actual contents or chemical makeup of their “green” products, the tone of the conversation would become defensive, Benoit says. “Some would even tell us that the information we were requesting was proprietary and they did not have to provide it. We also checked user references, which only verified our suspicions about the misrepresentations. Some companies had so-called lab tests, but as it turns out, the tests were actually done by the firms’ own staffs.”
The topic of “green or eco-friendly” deicers is a huge concern for the industry, Benoit says. “Suppliers and contractors, department of public works (DPW) and procurement staff need to be made aware of the misrepresentation of bad products as well as the good products. DPW staff need time to evaluate and make specification adjustments, and procurement/contracting staff need time to implement any changes prior to deicer bid/solicitation releases,” Benoit says. He adds that “most contracting officers do not know or care about the specifications of deicers, so the process is left with DPW staff.”
The effort to identify and secure truly green deicing materials can be time-consuming, Benoit says. The evaluation process necessary to change federal, state or municipal deicer specifications can take months. In addition, manufacturers and suppliers of valid green deicers need time to tweak supply chains and logistics.
Time-pressed government agencies, Benoit says, will sometimes procure the same deicing product used in previous years. Due to inertia, “nothing changes, and we continue to have massive sodium chloride and magnesium chloride runoff and terrible effects on the ecological systems,” he adds.
An upcoming Govpro post will spotlight ways to verify “green” deicers.