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  • 22 Mar 2018 6:12 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. The theme for World Water Day 2018 is ‘Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

    Damaged ecosystems affect the quantity and quality of water available for human consumption. Today, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; affecting their health, education and livelihoods.

    Sustainable Development Goal 6 commits the world to ensuring that everyone has access to safe water by 2030, and includes targets on protecting the natural environment and reducing pollution.

    Take action

    Wherever you are and whatever you do on March 22, make it about nature and water.

  • 23 Feb 2018 3:45 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The Ontario NDP is calling on the provincial government to release details of its revised arrangement with one of the maintenance contractors responsible for plowing and sanding the province's highways.

    Carillion Canada has contracts to maintain the highways in eight different parts of the province; in the north, that includes from Thunder Bay east to Marathon and Longlac and around the Huntsville area. Carillion's Canadian subsidiary received creditor protection after its U.K.-based parent went into liquidation in January.

    At the time, the province and Carillion announced they reached an arrangement "to ensure these services continue uninterrupted for the remainder of this winter." In the legislature on Wednesday, Ontario NDP transportation critic Wayne Gates said he wanted more details.

    "It's impossible to say anything for sure because the government will not release the contract," Gates told CBC News. "The contract's being paid by ... taxpayers' money; that agreement should be given to all the residents of Ontario."

    "If you have an agreement with Carillion to last until May, or whatever the length of the agreement is, they have, I believe they have an obligation to release that ... so we can see the agreement," he continued.

    In its creditor protection filing, Carillion said cash flow projections showed the company "should have sufficient cash on hand to remain operational through the week ending February 17, 2018," and that it would explore additional financing.

    Company spokesperson Cody Johnstone told CBC News on Feb. 22 that "operations are continuing on" but he couldn't get into specifics; he added that Carillion doesn't anticipate any changes to service standards and that all employees continue to be paid.

    The company has said its arrangement with the province "protects over 1,100 jobs in Ontario."

    'Paying some key suppliers'

    In response to Gates's query in question period on Wednesday, Minister of Transportation Kathryn McGarry said that under the current arrangement, the province "is paying some key suppliers directly for critical tools like road salt and equipment repair and leasing."

    "We are only paying Carillion for the services they provide, not paying any of Carillion's corporate costs," she continued.

    McGarry, as well as ministry officials, said that the province is "closely monitoring" money paid to the company to ensure employees and suppliers are paid. "To date we have no concerns in that regard," ministry spokesperson Annemarie Piscopo told CBC News.

    Gates said the province's ability to ensure highways remain safe in the winter should be of the upmost importance. "When you look at the safety of our roads, we're talking about our kids, our grandkids, our first responders," he said.

    Replying to Gates's questions in the legislature, McGarry said opposition parties were engaging in "fear mongering" on the highway file and that she has offered to meet with MPPs concerned with the issue.

    "We are committed to ensure that we have the roads safe and clear for our folks that are travelling the highway," she said. "Our number one priority is to make sure that we keep our roads safe right to the end of the winter season."

  • 14 Feb 2018 3:31 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Ramsey needs the same investment and big thinking the city is putting into 'the casino and performing art centre,' says director of Living With Lakes Centre.

    The impact of road salt on watersheds — a topic of rising concern in communities across Ontario — was the topic of a well-attened and at times passionate panel discussion Monday evening at the Vale Living With Lakes Centre. 

    The message from the expert panel was clear: Road salt is compromising the projected health of Ramsey Lake and if conservation-wise management is not undertaken by the city promptly, the long-term health of the drinking water source for 50,000 Sudburians, not to mention the flora and fauna that call the lake and its environs home, will be in jeopardy.

    The discussion was chaired by former Kirkland Lake mayor, long-time environmentalist and conservationist and retired physician Dr. Richard Denton. Filling out the panel was Dr. John Gunn, Canada Research Chair, Stressed Aquatic Systems and the director of the Vale Living with Lakes Centre; Dr. Charles Ramcharan, an associate professor in the School of Environment at Laurentian University; and Anoop Naik, a water resources specialist at Conservation Sudbury.

    The panelists agreed the presence of road salt is increasing in several of the city's waterways, but Ramsey Lake is of particular concern.

    "There's very good evidence from testing the drinking water that Ramsey Lake in particular has been steadily going up for decades," said Gunn. "There's no reason not to expect that it will continue to rise, but at what rate is another question."

    Approximately 50,000 Sudburians rely on Ramsey Lake for their drinking water. Lake Wanapitei is another source of the city's water, but that lake contains considerably less salt than what has been found in Ramsey, panelists said. 

    While probably easier said than done, the only option for addressing Ramsey's high levels of salt is to stop adding it to the lake, panelists said. Road salt is the primary cause of deposits in the waterway and it can be difficult to remove, they said. Plus, Naik added, it doesn't appear municipal water treatment is doing the job. 

    "When I superimposed both the treated water from David's Creek Treatment Centre and the raw water (from Ramsey Lake), there's hardly any difference," he said. "On the contrary, the treated water actually adds a few milligrams per litre of sodium."

    High salt content poses dangers to aquatic life in the lake, dangers to people with hypertension who get their drinking water from the lake and lowered property values on account of increased algal blooms. At 55 milligrams per litre, the salt content of the lake is at the point people should be concerned, Ramcharan said.

    "We are in the yellow. We're already at a sodium level where there are human health concerns," Ramcharan said. "Doctors at the health unit will be telling their patients that they have to be careful drinking Ramsey Lake water if they are on a low-sodium diet.

    We are already at that level."

    "Salt concentration is increasing in our drinking water," Denton said. "It needs to be addressed and now is the time to do it."

    Alternatives to using salt on icy roads exist, the panelists said, mentioning treating roadways and sidewalks agricultural with things like beet juice, pickle juice or potato juice. Alternatively, substances that improve traction could include wood chips used in conjunction with salt. "Eco-traction" is a new technology that uses volcanic mineral that easily embeds itself into ice and snow.

    "The city had an enormous vision around the 100-year Ramsey Lake Plan," Gunn said, while motioning to the darkened sight of Lake Ramsey beyond the room's half enclosure of glass. "That plan is nearly a quarter of the way through. More than 25 years has gone by and we don't quite see the vision out the window that we imagined at the time.

    "The same kind of investments as we are putting into the casino and the performance art centre, it needs that same scale of thinking and investment to make (Sudbury) this really attractive technology centre around clean water where quality of life and knowledge infrastructure is surrounded by lakes and a  better place to live than say, Silicon Valley or a place called Toronto."

  • 14 Feb 2018 6:30 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    If you live anywhere that gets nasty weather, you’re familiar with the trucks that lumber along the roads and dump whatever it takes to keep everything moving. Exactly what they’re dropping will depend on where you are, what the weather’s like, how much money your municipality has to spend, and what kind of trucks it owns.

    Of course, you also have to think about what that stuff is doing to your vehicle. Here’s a rundown on what might be out on your roads.

    Rock Salt

    Plain rock salt, properly known as sodium chloride, is the great old grandpa of the snow-plow set. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and because it’s been around so long, virtually every municipality has equipment to spread it. It’s also just lying in wait and smirking until it gets its salty hands on your vehicle.

    Plain water freezes at 0°C. Salt lowers its freezing point, so it stays liquid instead of turning to ice when the thermometer drops below that. Salt needs to mix with the ice to be effective, and doesn’t do much if it’s just sitting on top of it. The streets can still be slippery if you’re the first one out after the salt truck has passed, because it’s the traffic driving over the salt that works it into the ice so it can do its business.

    Sodium chloride’s major drawback is that it’s an environmental nightmare. It kills vegetation and pollutes waterways, and it destroys concrete and rusts metal. If the roads in your area are salted, wash your vehicle frequently in winter, paying special attention to the undercarriage. Take it to the do-it-yourself, or use a pressure washer, and spray under the vehicle until the water runs clear.

    Salt Brine

    The name says it all: liquid mixed with sodium chloride, and sometimes other de-icers, sprayed on the roads with specialized trucks. It’s not applied to existing ice, but rather, it’s put down before bad weather is expected, and it dries and sticks to the road. When snow or freezing rain falls, that thin dried-brine layer prevents ice from sticking to the asphalt, making it easier for plows to scrape the surface clean.

    Environmentally speaking, brine is better than rock salt, because less is required. It also stays where it’s put, at least initially. But it still washes onto the shoulders and into whatever green stuff grows alongside once the ice melts. When the weather warms up, that brine-salt coating gets moist and very sticky, and your tires will happily propel it into your vehicle’s nether regions. In addition to turning your sheet metal into Swiss cheese, it also attacks wiring, which can affect your ride’s electronics. Some jurisdictions add an anti-corrosion solution, but don’t count on that to save you. As with rock salt, keep your vehicle’s underside clean throughout the winter months.

    Pre-Wetted Salt

    A combination of the previous two, this is rock salt sprayed with salt brine before it’s deployed. Rock salt bounces when it hits the pavement and often vaults right into the ditch, where it doesn’t do anybody any good. Pre-wetted salt is more likely to stay where it lands. The brine also speeds up the process of turning ice into salty water. This salt-and-brine combination is just as bad for the environment, and for your vehicle, as either one alone.

    Beet Juice

    Beet what? Yes, some municipalities are spreading vegetables on the roads. It’s the liquid left over when sugar beets are refined into sweetener. It’s mixed with salt and used like brine, but it’s a little better on the environmental side.

    It’s similar to salt-and-water brine, but beet juice is stickier – it’s basically thin molasses – and it does an even better job of gluing the thin salt layer to the asphalt, making it more effective. It can also lower the freezing point to −32°C for better cold-weather protection. It’s more expensive than mixing salt with water, but it can reduce salt use by up to 60 percent. Some municipalities save it for areas with extra environmental concerns, such as roads that run through wetlands or cross rivers.

    Beet juice isn’t the only foodstuff doing double duty on the roads. Depending on what’s available from local suppliers, some municipalities may use cheese brine, pickle juice, or spent grain mash from beer or liquor production. As far as your vehicle goes, consider beet juice to be an even stickier method of adhering salt to your sheet metal.


    Rock salt isn’t the only thing that’ll turn ice to water. There are other de-icers that work even better, including magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, and urea. Rock salt gives up starting around −12°C, but calcium chloride keeps working down to about −30°C, and creates heat when it gets damp so it works even faster. Meanwhile, potassium acetate can do its job when the temperature dips as low as −60°C, and it’s biodegradable to boot.

    But you never get something for nothing. Calcium chloride is about twice the price of rock salt, while potassium acetate costs about eight times as much.

    The price of alternatives limits their use, and they’re spread mostly on smaller areas such as sidewalks. However, some municipalities mix them with larger volumes of rock salt for roads. If they end up on your vehicle, they tend to break the metal’s molecules apart, and they can potentially do more damage than sodium chloride alone.


    At the coldest temperatures, nothing’s going to turn ice to liquid, and that’s when sand comes in. Rather than melting the ice, it sits on top and helps give drivers some traction. It doesn’t present much of an environmental issue – other than the fact that, worldwide, we’re starting to face a global shortage of sand – although it has to be swept up or shovelled away once winter has passed.

    It’s reserved for Canada’s most frigid areas, since it would have to be reapplied too often in regions that regularly thaw and freeze. The resulting accumulation could clog the storm drains. Other than its abrasive effect when it’s tossed by the wind or other vehicles driving alongside, it’s not a hazard for your fenders.

    Pickled Sand

    Sand has a tendency to clump if it gets moist, which can gum up the sanding trucks. To avoid clogging, it’s sometimes mixed with salt, at five to 10 percent of its volume, and the mixture is known as pickled sand. While it’s far less of a problem than a dump of 100 percent rock salt – again – wash your vehicle regularly if your municipality uses it.

    Extra Protection

    All dry de-icers are hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture, since they need at least a bit of liquid to start the process. That’s bad news for your vehicle, since even a dry layer of salt dust will eventually draw humidity when the temperature warms up, and that salty liquid is hungry for metal. Invest in undercoating or oil spray before winter, and make sure to get all the nooks and crannies: inside the doors, behind the tail lights, and inside the tailgate if you drive a truck. Wax your vehicle often, and touch up stone chips as soon as they happen. Let salt and de-icers do their job on the roads, not on your ride.

  • 09 Feb 2018 11:16 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    It is yet another way that our cars are killing us.

    Juan Alsace is the US Consul General in Toronto, Canada, a role that usually involves keeping out of the public eye. But he is on a very public campaign to get North Americans to cut back on the use of road salt. It's a big problem. Road salt is bad for buildings, rusts out cars, kills vegetation, affects aquatic life and makes our little dog cry when she is walking.

    Alsace even made a silly video of himself eating over-salted Buffalo wings (he's from Buffalo originally) and tells Matt Galloway of the CBC that in some rivers and streams flowing into the Great Lakes, there are salt levels similar to seawater. He says that 80 percent of the problem evidently comes from municipal and private parking lots. Alsace says that they could all do the job with 70 percent less salt by metering it out carefully, and using alternates; in Wisconsin they use cheese brine, while others have tried beet wastewater left over from sugar beet processing.

    The organization that Alsace supports, Smart About Salt, has some good recommendations that would cut down the use of salt, the main one being that we should just use it for ice. In many cases people are using it to melt snow because it is less work than picking up a shovel.

    They also recommended actions that people could do that would reduce the need for salt, such as wearing proper non-slip boots on our feet and snow tires on our cars. The fact is that it snows so much less now that people have almost forgotten how to deal with it -- how to drive or walk in it. And when people fall, they often sue. According to Tim Alamenciak in TVO, some states are changing the laws, like in New Hampshire where snow removal companies can get liability relief if they take training.

    “What we heard from the contractors is that it was very challenging for them to reduce given the liability concerns. One of the reasons they put down so much salt is to prevent liability in a slip-and-fall case,” says Ted Diers, administrator in the Department of Environmental Services’ water division. “What we did was [write] a bill for our legislature that would give limited liability relief for people that have gone through our Green SnowPro training program.”

    Toronto writer Shawn Micallef has also been on the case after his dog went on strike. Canadian car owners should all be complaining; it is estimated in Ontario and Quebec that rust from salt causes an extra $3 billion in vehicle depreciation each year. According to VOX,

    The US now spends $2.3 billion each year to remove snow and ice from highways. It then costs another $5 billion to pay for the resulting damage caused by salt. And that's not even counting the cost of salting cities or rural roads.

    Of course, it would not be a TreeHugger post if I didn't complain that this is also all about cars -- the parking lots that need salting, the parking garages and bridges that are disintegrating. As Brad Plumer noted on Vox,

    Before World War II, few US cities used salt in the winter. When snow fell, local governments would plow the roads and then spread sand and cinders around to improve traction. Cars would don snow chains. And people generally accepted that the roads weren't always passable in icy conditions. But as America's highways expanded and became ever more crucial to the economy, that changed. Increasingly, truckers and commuters needed to be able to drive in all conditions.

    That's why I wrote earlier:

    Road salt destroys roads, shortens the lives of cars, kills vegetation and now, we know that it is harming our watersheds. Better alternatives would be to reduce speed limits in winter, make snow tires mandatory as they do in Quebec, and provide better public transit and other alternatives to driving, instead of destroying the environment to satisfy a need for speed.

    It really is just another side effect of our crazy, car dominated transportation system, with a pinch of salt.

  • 05 Feb 2018 2:52 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    It’s 2018 and Canadians are still figuring out how to deal with ice and snow accumulations.

    We can’t be faulted for effort. Statistics Canada estimates that 5 million tonnes of road salt are used each winter. 

    Even with all that salt, there’s still plenty of ice on streets and sidewalks.

    Salt, in addition to not working in the coldest of temperatures, doesn’t always stick to roads and is an important cause of corrosion. It also makes cute dogs sad. 

    That’s why cities have been experimenting with alternative substances to combat ice. Some of them, like wood chips, are sensible. Others, like beet juice or pickle brine, are amusing byproducts of local industry. 

    Winter is not yet over, and the war on ice rages on.

  • 02 Feb 2018 4:24 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Environmental researchers in the Greater Toronto Area say road salt runoff is making some local waterways as salty as seawater.

    The salt is damaging the ecosystem, beginning to infiltrate ground water supply and has the potential to kill sensitive species, scientists warn.

    "It's really quite worrying," Carl Mitchell, an associate professor of environmental science at University of Toronto, said in an interview.

    "We're approaching ocean salt levels for certain amounts of time in some of these rivers," Mitchell told CBC Toronto.

    "You can taste it at those levels."

    Recent advances in testing technology have made it possible for scientists to track water quality in real time.

    At Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), the authority responsible for protecting the Credit River watershed, salt levels at or above that of oceans have been recorded for periods following road salting.

    Salinity is measured by tracking the chloride level of water.

    According to CVC testing, during winter months, when road salting happens, chloride levels in streams consistently exceed 5,000 milligrams per litre.

    "It's very, very high," said Amanjot Singh, a senior engineer with CVC.

    "Some of the sensitive species will die."

    Previously, researchers had to rely on "grab samples" taken directly from the water source. Now testing stations automatically send results every 15 minutes.

    On Jan. 8, soon after four centimetres of snow fell in Mississauga, the chloride level of the Cooksville Creek was 18,000 mg/litre.

    The average chloride level in oceans is 20,000 mg/liter.

    Singh has seen chloride levels above 20,000 mg/litre in GTA rivers.

    "We are worried," he said.

    And the worry doesn't go away in the spring.

    Singh says some GTA waterways, those in the most urbanized areas, never drop to what's considered a safe chloride level because of the accumulation of winter road salt in the soil and groundwater.

    As urban sprawl in the GTA pushes closer to sensitive headwaters, Singh hopes municipalities can adopt alternatives to road salt, such as beet juice, or just cope with snowier roads.

    Salt is 'cost effective'

    But slowing down a city the size of Toronto isn't that simple.

    Dominic Guthrie, a manager with the city's Winter Operations division, says road salt is the "agent" that allows residents to continue to safely move around the city in the snow.

    Elizabeth Hendriks, vice president of World Wildlife Fund Canada, says large private properties, such as big-box stores with big parking lots, contribute to the problem as well.

    "It's building up," she said. "It's suffocating fish."

    Hendriks says the high salt levels in rivers and streams are hurting many other species of wildlife, even raccoons.

  • 01 Feb 2018 8:02 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    By Daniel Niepow, Associate Editor

    In the warmer months, the
    Wisconsin & Southern Railroad (WSOR) handles a high volume of construction materials and grain. When the cold months roll around, though, those shipments tend to slow down.

    This winter, the regional has embarked on a new business venture that's helping to offset the traffic downturn, WSOR leaders say.

    Starting in November 2017, the railroad began shipping road salt used to de-ice Wisconsin's roads, marking the first time the commodity has been railed into the state, says Jason Murphree, commercial director at
    Watco Cos. LLC, which owns the regional.

    Historically, salt has been transported to Wisconsin by ship via Lake Michigan. That salt originates in Canada and ends up at a Kinder Morgan terminal. The commodity also enters the state on barges traveling up the Mississippi River from Louisiana.

    As of early January, WSOR unloaded 20,000 tons of road salt into Watco Terminal and Port Services' (WTPS) facility in Madison, Wisconsin. The facility can store up to 80,000 tons of salt, or enough to fill about 800 rail cars,
    according to a blog post on Watco's site.

    "We don't have that same drop-off in volume in the winter that we once had because salt is moving in a higher volume," Murphree says.

    This year, WSOR expects to move about 1,500 rail cars of salt from a U.S.-based customer, which he declined to name.

    The regional, which operates more than 800 miles of track in Wisconsin and Illinois, began shipping the salt after Watco realigned its commercial group to offer both rail and transloading services as one package for customers.

    "Historically, we had transload sales people and we had railroad sales people. We would try to do some cross selling, but we didn't have direct responsibility," he explains.

    Murphree believes the realignment was a key reason WSOR landed the road salt deal. The customer wanted to ship salt into Wisconsin but had no employees in the state, so the combined rail and transloading offering made sense.

    "This is one direction I can see the industry turning toward — offering a complete package. You're going to start to see more and more railroad holding companies and railroads really
    place an emphasis on transloading," Murphree says. "You can expand your railroad right of way by 100 miles by having a transload facility in the vicinity."

    That emphasis also means learning to treat truckers as partners instead of the competition, he adds.

    WSOR continues to work with the road salt customer nationwide. The regional is considering establishing salt terminals at five locations in the United States — two additional ones in Wisconsin and three others outside the state.

    Meanwhile, to further boost its winter business, WSOR also has begun serving two new propane customers in Wisconsin.

    In a state where winter temperatures frequently dip into the single digits or fall below zero, there's healthy demand for propane to heat homes and businesses. In fact, Gov. Scott Walker
    late last year declared a state of emergency due to a propane shortage in Wisconsin.

    The state's experienced road salt shortages, too, and has even explored
    using cheese brine to de-ice roads. With the salt stored at the transload site, however, there's a "constant, year-round supply of salt, no matter what the weather is doing," Murphree says.

    WSOR's first propane customer, which is based near McFarland, Wisconsin, has been operating for about a year. That customer receives about 300 loads annually.

    The regional also has added a new customer in Waldo, Wisconsin. Each year, WSOR expects to ship around 200 to 300 tank cars to that customer, according to Watco's blog.

    Prior to these deals, the railroad had never shipped propane before. As a result, WSOR had to obtain necessary permits to handle the shipments.

    Both the propane and road salt deals stemmed from simply paying attention to customers' needs, Murphree believes.

    "I didn't pick this location where the salt facility is — our customer did," he says. "We follow our customers' lead."

  • 26 Jan 2018 3:17 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    This winter, Calgary has expanded its use of beet juice as a de-icing alternative to road salt. While slightly more expensive than salt, the mixture is more efficient, less toxic and less corrosive. 

    Nevertheless, despite a galaxy of relatively benign de-icing agents such as beet juice, this year cities across Canada will stubbornly continue to coat their roads with literal mountains of salt. Although salt remains the single cheapest way to keep snow and ice at bay, the economics make much less sense when considering the awesome scale of the damage wrought every year by the salt truck

    Below is a repost of an article that first ran in January, 2017. Since it was originally published, road salt has dissolved hundreds of kilograms of automotive steel, chapped untold numbers of dog’s paws and done at least $5 billion damage to Canadian infrastructure. 

    It’s doing billions of dollars in damage to cars

    In 2015, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pegged salt corrosion as the culprit in thousands of vehicle brake failures. That same year, Transport Canada issued a recall of 3,000 BMWs and Minis that had been parked at the Port of Halifax during the 2015 ice storm. But it wasn’t the ice that caused the recall; salt de-icing had damaged the vehicles so badly that they couldn’t steer properly. Way back in 1975, Transport Canada estimated that de-icing salts were causing $200 in damage per car, per year — the equivalent of $854 in 2017. Corrosion-resistant coatings have improved in the interim, but even when one-quarter that amount is applied to the roughly 14 million registered vehicles in Ontario and Quebec, the result is an extra $3 billion in vehicle depreciation each year.

    It’s ravaging our bridges and highways

    Crews are already at work on a $4.2-billion replacement for Montreal’s Champlain Bridge. The original, built in 1962, was brought to the edge of collapse in only 50 years because of salt corrosion. Salt brine seeping into concrete dramatically speeds up the corrosion of rebar within — and is heavily responsible for the poor state of bridges and highway overpasses across central Canada. Salt was a key contributor to the deadly 2006 collapse of the De La Concorde bridge in Laval, killing six people. The heavy salt diet on Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway is also one of the main reasons the elevated highway is often raining chunks of concrete; as rebar corrodes, the concrete around it crumbles. Tellingly, a series of 1930s-era stone carvings around Toronto’s Air Canada Centre have been permanently ruined by salty runoff from the nearby expressway.

    It’s not just roads

    After the Algo Centre Mall in Ontario’s Elliot Lake collapsed in 2012, killing two people, forensic analysts said the building’s steel supports looked like they had spent decades marinating in sea water. There were structural problems, to be sure, but the building was also hammered by 30 years of salty runoff from a rooftop parking garage. Road salt was also a contributing factor to lead contamination of drinking water in Flint, Mich. Water from the Flint River — made extra salty by road salt runoff — was eating into old pipes, dosing the population with lead. In 2011, well before the Flint disaster, Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy pegged the total damage done by road salt as high as $687 CDN per tonne. In Minnesota, damage estimates ranged between $1000 CDN and $5000 CDN per tonne. Canada uses at least seven million tonnes of salt per year, according to 2009 estimates by Environment Canada. Using the Mackinac Center estimate, that’s $4.8 billion in damage per year — $1 billion more than the $3.6 billion damage caused by the Fort McMurray wildfire.

    There’s a bunch of small, annoying problems, too

    Dalhousie University estimated that it costs it an extra $15,000 in cleaning and maintenance each year just to repair all the damage salt does to floors and baseboards — with similar costs presumably accruing to most of Canada’s other universities, museums and public buildings. Salt severely corrodes leather, reducing the lifespan of Canadian shoes and requiring extra cleaning. And wading through salt is brutal on dogs’ paws: Every winter brings a new wave of chapped paw cases to Canadian vets.

    Nature’s not too happy with this, either

    Hit a moose lately? There’s a chance that they wandered onto the road in order to lick up some road salt. Sodium is quite rare in nature, which is why moose — like humans — have pretty strong salt cravings. Much of Canada’s road salts also end up on forest floors, farm fields or water systems. In 2010, a report found that Frenchman’s Bay outside Pickering, Ont., was so polluted with road salt that it had been effectively cleared of fish.

    There’s a better way

    It’s generally too cold for road salt to be effective in the Prairies, so municipalities make do with sand, plowing and — in residential areas — simply having people drive on packed snow. But, the Prairies also regularly rack up Canada’s highest rates of highway deaths. Keeping roads ice-free is generally a good thing, but there are less-corrosive alternatives: calcium magnesium acetate, magnesium chloride and calcium chloride. But with salt costing only $50 per tonne, alternatives can cost between six to 18 times. It’s a lot of money for the already overstretched de-icing budgets of Canadian cities — but potentially a bargain when the total societal costs of salt are factored in.

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