Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 269–272 | Cite as

Ecotoxicity of Alternative De-icers

  • Anneli JouttiEmail author
  • Eija Schultz
  • Piia Pessala
  • Taina Nystén
  • Pasi Hellstén
Research Article



De-icers are essential to wintertime road maintenance in Nordic countries. The use of road salts (NaCl, CaCl2 and MgCl2) is having significant effects on groundwater. There has been a growing concern of environmental effects resulting from de-icing. Regulatory bodies have tried to find de-icers which have less harmful impacts on soil and groundwater. Alternative new organic de-icers are e.g. potassium formiate, potassium acetate, and calcium magnesium acetate.


At present, the decision finding for soil and water quality assessment is mainly based on the results of chemical analyses. However, ecotoxicological characterization will provide more useful information for determining environmental effects of de-icers.


Six different de-icers, NaCl, CaCl2, MgCl2, potassium formicate KFo, potassium acetate KAc and calcium magnesium acetate CMA were studied with different bioassays. These bioassays were two plant tests (onion Allium cepa root elongation test and duckweed Lemna growth inhibition test), an enzyme inhibition test (reverse electron transport test, RET) and a microbial test (luminescent bacteria Vibrio fischeri, BioTox test).

Results and Discussion

Most of the responses of the de-icers tested were toxic to test organisms. CMA was unsuitable for RET and BioTox tests because it was not possible to analyze turbid samples with these bioassays. On the whole, organic chemicals were more toxic than the inorganic salts. According to the Lemna and Allium cepa tests KFo was the most toxic and the toxicity ranking of the de-icers was KFo > KAc > CMA > CaCl2 > NaCl > MgCl2. The sensitivity ranking for tests in decreasing order was Lemna > Allium cepa > RET > BioTox. The plant tests proved to be relevant, easy, cost-effective and sensitive screening methods of de-icers: Lemna test was 92 times more sensitive and Allium test 70 times more sensitive than BioTox to KFo.

Conclusion and Outlook

The tested de-icers had significant effects on plant growth, microbial luminescence and enzymatic activity. Toxicity could hardly be predicted from the chemical concentrations of these de-icers. In summary, these results demonstrate a need for including toxicity measurements in the evaluation of technologies used in soil treatment and illustrate the potential value of such measurements for ensuring that no or minimal environmental contamination would arise from de-icing process.


Allium cepa test bioassay de-icer enzymatic test Lemna test luminescent bacteria microbiological test plant test phototoxicity reverse electron transport test toxicity 


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Copyright information

© Ecomed Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anneli Joutti
    • 1
    Email author
  • Eija Schultz
    • 1
  • Piia Pessala
    • 1
  • Taina Nystén
    • 1
  • Pasi Hellstén
    • 1
  1. 1.Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)HelsinkiFinland

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