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  • 26 Jan 2017 6:39 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Editor's note. While safety is paramount and the injury or death of anyone is lamentable it is unfortunate that the misunderstanding of rock salt and brine have 'precipitated' a debate which should be focused on encouraging the adoption of best practices.

    Legislators introduced a bill last week to ban salt brine from being applied on Vermont’s public roads.

    The state’s Transportation Agency currently sprays roads with a salt solution that melts snow, but critics say the brine has particularly corrosive effects on vehicles.

    “My understanding, from talking to some mechanics … is that (salt brine) adheres to, and sticks, to vehicles more than just what actual salt does that’s applied,” said one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell.

    He said he has heard from mechanics that salt brine is especially bad for mufflers and brake lines.

    But officials at the Vermont Department of Transportation say the brine is simply salt and water.

    Workers generally make salt brine by combining water with the same salt that is applied to roads dry at other times, said Erik Filkorn, a public outreach administrator at the agency.

    Under extreme cold, they sometimes add a substance that makes the solution melt snow and ice at temperatures below where sodium chloride is effective, said the agency’s head of operations, Scott Rogers.

    This additive is not corrosive and in fact contains corrosion inhibitors, Rogers said.

    Higley and three other lawmakers joined the lead sponsor, Rep. Clement Bissonnette, D-Winooski, in proposing the ban.

    H.82 takes up only five sentences. One specifies that the bill pertains only to liquid salt solutions. The salt is most often sodium chloride, it says, but can be calcium chloride or magnesium chloride.

    “The (Vermont Agency of Transportation), municipalities, and all other persons shall not use salt brine on any highway, or on any private or public road used by motor vehicles, in Vermont,” reads the third sentence.

    Violations of the ban would be enforced as unpermitted water pollution. The ban would take effect at the beginning of July.

    The bill would prohibit one of the Transportation Agency’s most-used methods of clearing roads in winter, said Filkorn.

    “Salt and brine are an essential part of what we do to fight snow and ice,” he said. Officials say brine allows workers to use less sand and salt while making roads safe.

    Filkorn said he couldn’t immediately predict what the AOT might do if the bill were to pass.

    According to the agency’s snow and ice control plan, the salt brine it uses consists of a 23 percent solution of salt in water. It is used primarily when road surface temperatures are above 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The plan stipulates that the agency must add a 3 percent solution of corrosion inhibitors to salt brine.

    The agency applied more than 2.27 million gallons of salt brine on Vermont roads during the winter of 2014-2015, according to the AOT’s 2016 fact book and annual report. The agency spread 132,271 tons of salt during the same period and more than 9,600 tons of sand. These treatments were spread over 6,522 lane-miles of road surface.

    Salt brine is widely suspected of worsening corrosion of vehicles, although the state says that has not been shown.

    An accident in Barre in 2014 illustrated the risks that rusted auto components can pose if not repaired. Investigators said unrepaired corrosion on a car built in the early 1990s contributed to the death of a woman in a crash on a steep hill. The car’s brake lines burst just before or during the accident, investigators said.

    The humid climate of Northeast states seems to be hard on automobiles, even without the salt, said Mason Kuhn, head technician at Montpelier’s State Street Gulf.

    “Any cars from the Northeast — New York, Maine, New Hampshire — are terrible to work on” because the region’s humidity corrodes their parts, Kuhn said.

    The salt only exacerbates this effect, he said.

    “Cars are affected by the salt here, in particular, far more than other places,” Kuhn said. “We live in a state that’s really moist, and we use a lot of salt.”

    But he wasn’t sure a salt brine ban would make a difference. If the state has to substitute dry salt, that will convert to salt brine when it melts the frozen water and dissolves into it, he said. In the winter, Kuhn said, meltwater that remains on roads is nothing other than salt brine.

    Auto owners can combat the effects of road salt by simply washing their vehicles, particularly the undercarriage, Kuhn said.

    A more permanent solution is undercoating, he said. That is a protective film sprayed onto the bottom of an automobile that shields the chassis and components from corrosion.

    “Regardless of where you get it done, if someone does a half-decent job (of undercoating) it’ll definitely extend the life of your car,” Kuhn said.

  • 09 Feb 2016 7:35 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    A community group wants the Halifax Regional Municipality to stop salting roads around Williams Lake near Purcells Cove Road because it says the lake is being contaminated. 

    The Williams Lake Conservation Company, a volunteer non-profit group that works to promote the health of the lake and its watershed, hired retired biologist David Patriquin to test salt levels in the water. 

    "He found that in one area of the lake it appeared that was not turning over, which is fundamental to a healthy lake," said Kathleen Hall, who sits on the group's executive and lives on Williams Lake. 

    "The bottom turns over and oxygen is allowed to get in there and so the plants can grow. Of course, if the lake becomes stagnant and doesn't turn over then organisms will die. There will be no fish, birds whatever," Hall told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

    Road salt running into lake

    Williams said high salt content can prevent a lake from turning over. Tests also showed salt concentrations were higher where runoff from a new subdivision entered the lake. 

    "The salts were seven times what the inputs were in the undeveloped parts of Williams Lake. So that's a really strong indication that development leads to more salt," said Hall. 

    Williams Lake used to have some protection; for 25 years the municipality agreed not to salt streets near the lake. Hall said last year crews suddenly began salting again, this time using a brine mixture. She said she was told the municipality changed its policy.   

    Hall said her conservation group is urging the municipality to once again stop the practice.

    HRM following federal salting guidelines

    So far Halifax has no plans to do that.  

    In an email, municipal spokeswoman Jennifer Stairs said Halifax follows Environment Canada's code of practice regarding the environmental management of road salts.

    The code recommends using salt management plans to reduce the negative environmental impact. Stairs said negative impacts can be cut by delivering the right amount of salt, in the right place, at the right time. 

    If people living around Williams Lake have concerns about how salt is applied they can discuss them with the municipality or submit a petition, she said.

    Hall said the group already raised its concerns with the municipality, but it hasn't led to change. 

    "The two parties are locked in a situation where the residents are definitely unhappy and things aren't changing, but then the city will say, 'Well, we don't know what's going on.'" 


  • 25 Nov 2015 8:44 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)



    The City of Toronto will spend $11 million on road salt alone this winter, officials said as they revealed the winter operations budget on Monday.

    Overall, the city will spend $85 million this winter to keep streets and sidewalks clear of snow and to fix any issues that may arise.

    "Weather is completely unpredictable and for that reason the city is going to be ready for whatever winter throws at us," said Coun. Jaye Robinson, who chairs the city's public works committee.

    Robinson added that after last year's frigid winter, city officials are hoping this one will be warmer.

    "We're hoping for mild temperatures," she said, on one of the coldest days of fall so far.

    By the numbers

    Some 1,500 workers will be tasked with clearing thousands of kilometres of roads and sidewalks this winter. Many are hoping for a gentler winter than last year's, when weeks of sub-zero temperatures wreaked havoc on the city's infrastructure.

    Here's the data the city has to consider ahead of Dec. 22, the official start of winter:

    • 133: Centimetres of snow the city usually gets each winter, based on a 30-year average.
    • 10,200: Tonnes of salt used in one storm.
    • 1,102: Number of city-operated winter work vehicles, including plows and salt trucks.

    Water main breaks are also common at this time of the year, though many are caused by aging pipes — some nearly 60 years old — as opposed to the wintry weather.

    There were three major breaks on Monday morning alone, city staff said.

    The city urged residents to insulate pipes, especially ones near outside walls or in colder areas like crawl spaces or garages. People should also drain the outdoor water supply, the city said.

    The city plans to spend $146 million this year fixing water mains.  

  • 17 Nov 2015 9:54 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)


    The water that supplies aquifers and wells that billions of people rely on around the world is, from a practical perspective, mostly a non-renewable resource that could run out in many places, a new Canadian-led study has found.

    While many people may think groundwater is replenished by rain and melting snow the way lakes and rivers are, underground water is actually renewed much more slowly.

    In fact, just six per cent of the groundwater around the world is replenished and renewed within a "human lifetime" of 50 years, reports University of Victoria hydrogeologist Tom Gleeson and his collaborators in a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience today.

    That water tends to be mainly found within a few hundred metres of the surface, where it is most vulnerable to being contaminated by pollution or depleted by higher temperatures and reduced rainfall as a result of climate change, the researchers found.

    "Groundwater is a super-important resource," Gleeson said in an interview with CBC News. "It's used by more than a third of the world's population every day for their drinking water and it's used by agriculture and industry."

    More than a third of the Canadian population relies on groundwater, including the entire population of P.E.I. and some fairly large urban centres such as Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph in Ontario, Gleeson added.

    Because groundwater is so important to billions of people around the world, Gleeson and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Calgary, and the University Gottingen were interested in finding out how much groundwater there is in the world and to get an idea of when it will run out.

    Nuclear clues

    Scientists had previously made a rough estimate of the amount of groundwater in the world, but no one knew how much is renewable and how quickly it's replenished.

    Gleeson and his colleagues came up with a way to figure out what groundwater was less than 50 years old. In the 1960s, during the Cold War, a number of countries were doing above-ground nuclear testing. This introduced a radioactive form of hydrogen, called tritium, into the world's water supply.

    The researchers figured that groundwater with high levels of tritium was renewed since the 1960s. Groundwater with negligible levels was older.

    By looking at 3,500 measurements of tritium in groundwater from 55 countries and using computer models to trace the flow of groundwater around the world, they were able to estimate how much groundwater was young and renewable and how much was older.

    They also confirmed the total quantity of groundwater around the world using a variety of data like the permeability of rock to the flow of water and how much water could be stored in different places, based on how porous the rock there was.

    A look at previous estimates of total groundwater showed the crude calculations were not far off.

    "When we actually went back and traced what the actual calculation, it was literally two lines of text that someone could do at a bar," Gleeson said. "But the amazing thing was that they were right."

    His team came up with almost exactly the same number.

    Plentiful but finite

    They estimated that the total amount of groundwater in the world was 22.6 million cubic kilometres — enough to cover all the land on Earth to a depth of 180 metres. The amount that was renewable was no more than 1.3 million cubic kilometres or less than six per cent. But the researchers said that was likely an overestimate due to the types of rock in the areas where most of the measurements were taken. Correcting for that suggested that the actual amount of groundwater renewable within 50 years was likely only 0.35 million cubic kilometres, or enough to cover all the land on Earth to a depth of three metres.

    The good news is that the amount of renewable groundwater on Earth is quite large —- three times larger than all other fresh water contained in lakes and rivers on Earth, the researchers reported.

    But it isn't evenly distributed. There was less groundwater, especially younger groundwater, in more arid regions.

    Gleeson said in places like California and the U.S. Midwest, people are already using "non-renewable" water that is thousands of years old and in places such as Egypt, they're tapping into water that may have last been renewed a million years ago. Such old water isn't just non-renewable on human timescales — it tends to be saltier and more contaminated than younger groundwater.

    In addition, overusing groundwater, either old or young, can lower subsurface water levels and dry up streams, which could have a huge effect on ecosystems on the surface, Gleeson added.

    He hopes the study will help remind and motivate people to manage their groundwater resources better. "And realize that it's finite and a limited resource that we need to respect and manage properly."

  • 16 Oct 2015 12:48 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The Smart About Salt Council was thrilled to have its Essentials of Salt Management Program recognized with the Lake Simcoe Regional Conservation Authority Education Award.

    Board Chair, Eric Hodgins was present to receive the award and participate in the wonderful evening that recognized environmental leaders in a variety of categories.
  • 17 Sep 2015 6:38 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Mitacs has announced that it will invest $2.19 M to fund the development of new processes in water treatment to support resource recovery. The project will be undertaken by the London, Ontario-based Trojan Technologies in partnership with researchers from McMaster University, University of Alberta, University of Regina, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, University of Windsor, and Western University. The project will be supported through 140 Mitacs Accelerate internships over three years. The internships are intended to provide paid opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to bring their specialized expertise to business-related research challenges. Mitacs

  • 14 Sep 2015 7:14 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

     The University of Saskatchewan has announced that it will offer a new master’s degree in water security, reportedly the first of its kind in North America. The program will train students in issues such as drought, climate change, flooding, and water quality. “We saw a gap in current training that could be addressed with our university’s strong expertise in interdisciplinary water research,” said Program Director Andrew Ireson. Students will be able to choose one of three specializations: hydrology, hydrogeology, and socio-hydrology. The program, a project-based professional-style degree, will be offered through the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS). uSask

  • 16 Jul 2015 11:51 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    With updated course materials based on current research and leading practice the Smart About Salt Council (SASC) is pleased to offer the following tentative face-to-face training sessions for winter maintenance professionals, supervisors, facility operators and others:

    August 21, 2015: Southwest Ontario (Windsor/Chatham)

    August 27, 2015: Simcoe County (Barrie/Innisfil) 

    September 1, 2015: Niagara Region (St. Catharines)

    September 16 & 17, 2015: Snowposium (Ancaster)

    September 17, 2015: London

    September 23, 2015: Halton Region (Milton)

    October 7, 2015: Kingston

    October 8, 2015: Ottawa

    October 8, 2015: Halifax

    October 15, 0215: York Region (Richmond Hill)

    October 15, 2015: Oxford County (Woodstock)

    October 22, 2015: Durham Region (Whitby)

    October 23, 2015: Sudbury

    October 30, 2015: Region of Waterloo (Waterloo)

    To learn more please visit our events section and register today! 



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