With a harsh winter predicted for the Northeast, municipalities and homeowners will soon begin stocking up on road salt to keep streets and driveways passable and safe, and to that end, a upstart company is marketing a new product that they say is more effective at melting ice while also being environmentally friendly.
East End Organics, based in Riverhead and started by a Bridgehampton businessman, is selling ice melter products that use all-natural beet juice in place of chloride accelerants such as magnesium, calcium or potassium, which salesman Victor Balchunas said are corrosives and harsh on the environment. Meanwhile, before being mixed with salt, beet juice is 60 percent less corrosive than distilled water, he said. "It takes the harshness of the salt an it neutralizes it."
The natural ice melter is better for asphalt and sidewalks, and safer for pets, Balchunas said
Balchunas, Southampton residents for 30 years and a mason contractor, said the owner of East End Organics, Dave Schiavoni, is a Sag Harbor native now living in Bridgehampton. Schiavoni is also the owner of East End Ready Mix, a concrete business in Riverhead.
Balchunas explained that when the housing market crashed and construction dipped, they looked for a new business venture. They found it in the innovative ice melter.
"We researched it for three years and we opened last year, but it was 50 degrees all winter," Balchunas said.
Though they did not sell much, if any, ice melter in 2011, he said it worked out for East End Organics because — unlike salt with chloride accelerants — the beet juice mix isn't ruined after a year in storage.
"There's no shelf life on it," he said. "You can store it for years and years, and it never goes bad."
He explained that with conventional ice melter, moisture causes the salt to deteriorate.
The patent holder on the beet juice product is a man named Mike Bellovics, of SNI Solutions in Illinois. Balchunas said it was discovered that farmers' discarded beet juice does not freeze even when the temperature drops well below 0 degrees. Now the beet farming byproduct that was once tossed out is a hot commodity. East End Organics gets beet juice delivered by rail, truckloads at a time, and it is mixed in Riverhead with rock salt or brine.
Balchunas said because East End Organics employees mix the product and bag it themselves, they are able to sell it for the same price as conventional ice melt products. However, he said that it is more economical for highway departments and consumers, because they can expect to use a third less of it.
"The traditional stuff has a spike temperature, where once it stops working it doesn't reactivate," he said. But the beet juice ice melter will keep working, according to Balchunas, and any excess will stay behind as a dry film until it is reactivated with the next snowfall.
Beet juice-treated rock salt is recommended for homeowners, while the brine and beet juice liquid solution is recommended for municipalities.
The solution can be sprayed onto streets using a patented mister that fits on the back of any pickup truck, Balchunas said, explaining that the trick is to mist streets and parking lots before a storm, so if there is heavy snow it will all come right off when plowed without leaving any ice behind. Then, surfaces should be misted again, so ice won't form. He added that the treatment does not require any messy rock salt, or sand that needs to be cleaned up eventually.
Highway departments in Riverhead and Southampton towns, as well as the village of Sag Harbor, have signed on to use it, Balchunas said. Water Mill Building Supply and Lynch's Garden Center will carry it this winter for retail sales.