A Canadian company says it has an environmentally safe alternative to road salts that won't cause the kinds of corrosion problems that have been plaguing the trucking industry since the introduction of liquid de-icers containing magnesium chloride and calcium chloride.

Severe winter weather is causing a shortage of de-icers in some areas, so Earth Innovations is offering a ton of its EcoTraction free to the first 20 qualified municipalities who contact the company. Chicago is the first city to take the company up on the offer.

Unlike deicing salts, the company says the unique green-colored mineral works in the coldest temperatures and helps create traction in freezing rain.

"Unlike road salt, EcoTraction can actually benefit the environment because of its natural soil amendment and water filtration properties," says Mark Watson, co-founder and CEO. "It won't damage vegetation ... plus it is safe to touch or inadvertently ingest by pets, and won't corrode concrete, steel structures or rust cars."

The unusual product is made of a highly porous volcanic mineral with a unique honeycombed jagged structure. Each granule acts like a rigid sponge that embeds itself into ice by absorbing the thin layer of water that makes icy surfaces slippery, creating a "sandpaper effect."

EcoTraction was created in 2005 after Watson lost his dog to cancer. After consulting with a veterinary oncologist, he concluded that the cause was likely the toxins in road salt that his dog inadvertently ingested by licking his paws after winter walks.

A near-record 20.3 million tons of road salt was used last year in the United States. Watson hopes that municipalities across North America will re-evaluate the hidden costs of deicing salts and their effects on the environment and infrastructure. He points to the conclusion of the National Association of Corrosion Engineers: "A number of factors contribute to bridge corrosion. One of the most common is the use of deicing salts on roads and bridges… The salts cause corrosion of the steel reinforcing bars and other steel components supporting the bridge. This form of corrosion is the main cause of concrete bridge deterioration."