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  • 16 Jan 2020 7:25 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Consulting engineers at GHD have worked with Melfer Construction and the municipal government of Guelph, Ont., to build a new 18,600-m2 snow storage pad that will help reduce the local environmental impact of road salt.

    Nearly 12 times the size of a hockey rink, the pad was built from approximately 3,500 m3 of recycled concrete and asphalt, with the support of a $3.5-million grant from Infrastructure Canada’s Clean Water and Wastewater Fund. It sits near Guelph’s existing wastewater treatment facility on Wellington Street West.

    “Throughout winter, the city clears 500 to 2,000 truckloads of snow, ice, sand and salt from roads, bike lanes and sidewalks,” explains Doug Godfrey, Guelph’s general manager (GM) of operations. “In some cases, such as residential streets, the snow is simply cleared out of the way. In other cases, such as large parking lots, bridges and some downtown streets, it has to be scooped up and moved elsewhere.”

    In the past, the city simply used an empty field near Wellington and Imperial Roads to store this snow. Each spring, it would melt directly into the sandy soil below and around the field.

    “The pad is equipped with a drainage system and low-permeability lining to reduce erosion and protect the environment,” explains Prasoon Adhikari, P.Eng., an environmental engineer for the city. “Now, as snow melts, it’s collected and directed to a stormwater management pond, where it’s slowly filtered, before making its way into nearby wetlands.”

    As part of the project and following an environmental impact study, city staff planted salt-resistant native trees and shrubs throughout the site, which also features a new weather station and commercial net-metered solar panel system.

  • 27 Dec 2019 8:13 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    While Americans may dream of a white Christmas, living with snow the rest of the season is driving a nightmare salt habit.

    Each year, Americans spread more than 48 billion pounds of salt on roadways to ward off the effects of winter weather. But it comes at a cost: De-icing salt degrades roads and bridges, contaminates drinking water and harms the environment, according to a slate of scientists expressing growing alarm.

    “The issue of road salt has been out in front of us for decades but has received very little attention until the past five years,” said Rick Relyea, a biological scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute near Albany, New York. “Then we see, my goodness, it is everywhere, and it is a growing problem.”

    It’s a problem that’s growing exponentially.

    The country used about 164,000 tons of road salt in 1940, U.S. Geological Survey data shows. It broke 1 million tons in 1954, 10 million in 1985, and now averages more than 24 million tons a year.

    While salt helps keep roads clear in winter, it doesn’t just disappear with the snow. Some melts into rivers, lakes and even water supplies. The portion that remains on roadways eats away at pavement and bridges. It does the same to pipes that carry drinking water, causing lead contamination in some places. Too much salt in the environment can kill small organisms and change the sex of frogs.

    “We have only recently begun to recognize the serious long-term consequences of excessive road salt use,” said Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech corrosion expert who helped uncover the lead drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

    The Northeast is a top contributor. ClearRoads, a national consortium that researches and promotes winter road maintenance solutions, tracks how much road salt state governments use every year.

    At the top are five New England states that used the most salt per mile of road lanes over the past four years: Rhode Island (44.2 tons), Massachusetts (34.6 tons), New York (28.0 tons), New Hampshire (25.1 tons) and Vermont (23.3 tons).

    Connecticut and Maine also fall in the top 10, while Pennsylvania ranks 13th, Maryland 16th and Delaware 23rd. New Jersey hasn’t contributed data since 2014-15, but the 42 tons it used per mile that year would place it near the top.

    And that’s just the salt we know about. ClearRoads data tracks only state governments; salt used at private businesses and parking lots, on residential driveways and sidewalks, and by some cities isn’t captured. Many experts believe private industry could be using more salt than government, but no one’s tracking that.

    More road salt, more problems

    In the U.S., using salt to de-ice roadways is a technique dating to at least the late 1930s. There’s some mystery as to who did it first. Some say Detroit, others New Hampshire.

    There’s less mystery about the chemistry. Road salt typically consists of sodium and chloride. While sodium is less water soluble and lodges in soil, the vast majority of chloride washes away with the rain.

    Given the amount of salt used on roads, that’s a real problem, said Hilary Dugan, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A 2017 study by her team found that nearly half of the 284 freshwater lakes in their sample in the Northeast and Midwest had undergone “long-term salinization.” One in 10 of them reached a threshold where scientists worry about impacts on aquatic life.

    In 2017:It’s so cold out, a dog froze, sharks died and road salt is useless

    Road salt alternatives?:We use millions of tons of salt to melt ice from roads. Is there a better way?

    Making matters worse, Dugan’s team found that chloride levels in lakes rose when just 1% of adjacent land was developed. More than a quarter of large lakes nationwide fit that profile, and the problem is worse in crowded states such as Rhode Island, where 83% of lakes are urban.

    “It was just so obvious that when a lake was near any kind of urban environment, the chloride concentrations tended to be going up,” Dugan said.

    Relyea studies what that means for aquatic life. Even moderately salty waters can kill zooplankton, the tiny aquatic creatures at the bottom of the food chain that he said “help make a lake function properly.” Their absence can lead to worsening algae blooms.

    At higher concentrations, Relyea’s work shows salt can alter the sex of tadpole populations, making them 10% more male. It also can stunt the growth of fish, like rainbow trout, leaving them more vulnerable to predators. What this means for wildlife up the food chain needs more study.

    “There’s much less out there on what (salt) does to ecosystems,” Relyea said. “There are all kinds of potential cascading effects.”

    ‘Catastrophic’ risks from road salt

    If sex-changing frogs don’t concern you, this might: A Washington State University professor estimates the country spends $5 billion a year on infrastructure damages caused by road salt – and it might not nearly be enough.

    Due to its chemical properties, road salt can exacerbate the damage roads already suffer each winter when they repeatedly freeze and thaw. The effect expands and cracks the surface, said Xianming Shi, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who wrote a book on the subject, “Sustainable Winter Road Operations.”

    Shi called the effects on concrete bridges especially “shocking.”

    That’s because road salt, particularly an alternative variety of magnesium chloride, can slowly leach calcium out of concrete in bridges, as well as roads and sidewalks.

    “It’s like when people age, their bones lose calcium and get brittle and are more likely to crack,” Shi said. “It’s a very similar situation with the concrete.”

    While working with the Oregon Department of Transportation, Shi’s analysis found that some bridge decks, even though they were highly rated upon visual inspection, had in fact lost 40% of their strength. At the very least, Shi said, that means expensive maintenance may be needed more frequently.

    At worst? “It means the load-bearing capacity could be comprised,” Shi said, which could lead to “some catastrophic failures.”

    “Unfortunately,” he added, “we may not see any visible symptoms before it is too late.”

    Corroding water pipes

    Motorists may be more familiar with another chemical trait of road salt: its corrosiveness. Chloride can eat away at a car’s undercarriage or any other exposed metal and cause corrosion and rust. A study by AAA found road salt could be costing car owners as much as $3 billion annually in repair costs.

    For the same reason, road salt threatens pipes that carry drinking water, scientists say. When chloride levels outnumber other specific substances in water, they corrode metal, and toxic lead can flake off into drinking water.

    A federal study last year found U.S. monitoring stations in snowy and urban areas had higher chloride levels, and that as they increased, so too did the chance a nearby water system had violated federal lead standards.

    High chloride ratios in the Flint River contributed to Michigan’s lead drinking water crisis, and the same problem impacts smaller systems across the country as well, said Edwards, the expert who helped uncover Flint’s drinking water problem.

    In 2015, he consulted with public works officials in Brick, New Jersey, and found that road salt contributed to corrosion and high lead levels in the township’s drinking water. Once identified, proper adjustments were made at the water treatment plant to fix the problem.

    The problems encountered in Brick could occur in any of the thousands of public water systems across the country where road salt is used, Edwards said, adding that local water departments often don’t understand the risks of high chloride levels.

    “The Romans allegedly salted the earth to vanquish their enemies, and we now do the same to ourselves at a once unthinkable scale,” Edwards said.

    Salty solutions

    America’s addiction to road salt – the “acid rain of our time” – can be cured, said Eric Siy, the executive director of The Fund for Lake George, a nonprofit supporting scientific efforts at the lake in upstate New York.

    Siy, who has partnered with IBM, Relyea, and local governments to address the problem, said the Lake George region has gone high-tech, implementing best practices that others can model.

    Local towns now use “live edge” snowplows that conform to the shape of the road and can significantly reduce salt use. Salt trucks use GPS and special software to track routes and salt dispersal, increasing efficiency. Localized weather forecasts help anticipate needs so that trucks using a brine solution can pretreat roads and reduce overall salt use.

    Siy said they’re already seeing results, with salt use in some plow trucks falling by more than 40%. Following Siy’s model, the tiny town of Hague, New York, reduced its salt use by 22% in two years, saving $38,000.

    “We’re not putting anybody on Mars here,” Siy said. “We’re simply reducing the use of salt.”

    Economic arguments are crucial to getting buy-in, said Laura Fay, a research scientist at Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute, who has been pushing states and local governments for more than a decade to make similar improvements.

    “Maybe your state budget has been decreasing every single year,” Fay said. “So you’re trying to do the same or a better job ... with less money. That’s honestly what a lot of these agencies are facing right now.”

    ClearRoads data shows winter maintenance is expensive. New York tops the list in both overall costs ($373 million a year from 2015-18) and cost per lane mile ($8,451). Pennsylvania is second in total costs at $246.8 million, while four New England states round out the top five in costs per lane mile: Massachusetts ($7,233), Vermont ($4,967), New Hampshire ($4,815) and Maine ($4,148).

    Fay recommends a few simple steps to road crews to limit salt use and its impacts: Cover salt piles to protect them from precipitation and calibrate equipment to ensure proper salt distribution. Then, they can consider new approaches like the ones in Lake George.

    While return on investment varies, both Siy and Fay say most solutions pay for themselves within several years.

    Tackling the use of road salt by private companies poses a bigger hurdle, as the practice is almost entirely unregulated. Some states are trying, such as New Hampshire, which in 2013 introduced a program that trains private operators on best practices in exchange for liability protection.

    But the cheapest fix to America’s unhealthy road salt diet is also the most elusive: Reducing the public’s demand for clear roadways.

    “We as a driving public need to change our expectations to something closer to reality,” Fay said. “If you don’t need to drive to work, or the movies, or the mall, then don’t go.”

  • 20 Dec 2019 7:04 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Many lakes around the Twin Cities are becoming so salty from winter road maintenance that, within three decades, they will no longer support native fish and plants.

    The lakes were included in the first study of freshwater chloride contamination across the northern region of the country, an area that has one of the highest density of lakes on earth. The researchers found that lakes showed steadily rising concentrations of chloride even with just one percent impervious land cover around their perimeters.

    The Twin Cities turned out to be among the saltiest.

    “One of the most impacted areas is Minneapolis and St. Paul, where you have dozens of small lakes,” said Hilary Dugan, the lead researcher and a limnologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The smaller the lake, the more easily you load it with salt.”

    Altogether, researchers analyzed the salt histories of 371 lakes in 10 northern states and Ontario, Canada — 62 of which were in the Twin Cities metro area. The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

    The study could provide new guidance for environmental campaigns in many northern states, including Minnesota, to use less salt. While many of those efforts focus on road and street agencies like MnDOT, Dugan said homeowners and private businesses are to blame for about half the salt used each winter. And no one knows how much they are using.

    “When you put down salt on the sidewalk you should be thinking of teaspoons — not cups,” she said. “All you need is a few crystals to work effectively on ice.”

    Minnesota’s official list of impaired waters already includes 45 water bodies polluted with chloride, where the high concentration of roads, sidewalks and parking lots get about 349,000 tons of road salt a year. The Mississippi River in the metro area is not yet polluted enough to violate federal standards, but a recent report showed that salt concentrations, mostly from road salt, have increased 81 percent since 1985.

    “That’s a dramatic increase in any kind of contamination,” said Brooke Asleson, who manages the metro area salt reduction project for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

    Groundwater in the metro area is also affected, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, with almost a third of the monitoring wells in the area showing enough salt to affect aquatic life, and almost as many with enough to affect the taste of drinking water.

    The state has been fighting the problem for years, and many local governments have succeeded in reducing their use of salt thanks in part to the MPCA’s to educate municipalities and property owners on how to use less without compromising safety. The University of Minnesota cut its use by 41 percent, and the city of Waconia has cut it by 70 percent.

    The legal pollution standard for salt set by the Environmental Protection Agency is 230 milligrams per liter. And that amounts to one teaspoon per five gallons of water.

    A permanent pollutant

    Dugan and her co-researchers from across the country conducted the study in an effort to develop a national picture of salt contamination in water. They used all the available data they could find on lakes that have been monitored long term. They found 371 that were larger than 10 acres with enough data, including a significant number in Minnesota.

    They combined that with climate data and land use data that identified paved and impervious surfaces.

    They saw a clear picture that tied the amount of pavement with salty lakes. Any lake with one or more percent of paved surface around its border increased the likelihood of long-term salinization, she said. And 27 percent of all the lakes in the country have at least that much around their perimeters. It means, she said, that if current trends continue many of them will no longer be able to support aquatic life by 2050.

    A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency study of briny lakes in the Twin Cities looked at the relationship another way, Asleson said. It found that the urban lakes that exceeded the federal pollution standard were always found in watersheds with 18 percent road densities or greater. That covers most of the metro area, but also urban watersheds in towns like Austin, Rochester and St. Cloud, and provides a road map for where lakes are at greatest risk, she said.

    Dugan found that lakes with a 500-meter perimeter of trees or natural vegetation were largely protected from salt, she said, at least for a while. Those lakes, mostly in the wooded areas of the northeast part of the country, showed low or oscillating trends in chloride.

    Still, a healthy perimeter of natural landscape is most likely a temporary solution, she said, because no matter where it goes, salt is permanent.

    “Road salt is not going to be removed,” she said “It’s either stored in the soil or ends up in the water.”

  • 20 Dec 2019 7:03 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salt runoff threatens US, Canada lakes: study

    Salting of roads in winter helps drivers navigate snow and ice, but the runoff may be irreparably damaging freshwater lakes in the United States and Canada, researchers warned Monday.

    Most of the 371 North American freshwater lakes in the US Northeast and Midwest and Ontario province are showing an increase in salinity from chloride runoff, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    And if the trend continues it could doom aquatic life and reduce water quality, limiting the supply of drinking and irrigation water, the researchers said.

    “The picture is sobering,” said lead author Hilary Dugan, a freshwater specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    “We compiled long-term data, and compared chloride concentrations in North American lakes and reservoirs to climate and land use patterns, with the goal of revealing whether, how, and why salinization is changing across broad geographic scales,” Dugan said in a statement.

    “For lakes, small amounts of shoreline development translate into big salinization risks.”

    Each lake studied was larger than four hectares (0.02 square mile) and had at least 10 years of chloride data.

    The majority (284) of the lakes were located in the North American lakes region that includes 10 US states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin — as well as Ontario province.

    The use of road salt to keep winter roads navigable has been rising since the 1940s. The researchers determined that each year, some 23 million metric tons of sodium chloride-based de-icer are applied to North American roads.

    – Underestimated problem –

    Much of that road salt washes into nearby water bodies, becoming a major source of chloride pollution to groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes.

    To measure the quantities of road salt applied to roadways and other impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and sidewalks, the researchers evaluated road density and land cover within a 100- to 1,500-meter (0.06-0.09 mile) buffer around each of the study lakes.

    Their findings were clear: roads and other impervious surfaces within 500 meters of a lake‘s shoreline were a strong predictor of elevated chloride concentrations in the water.

    When the results of the study are extrapolated to all lakes in the North American lakes region, some 7,770 lakes may be at risk of rising salinity.

    If the escalation in salinization continues, it said, many lakes will exceed in the next 50 years the aquatic life threshold criterion for chronic chloride exposure set by the US Environmental Protection Agency of 230 milligrams per liter.

    According to the study, 14 lakes are expected to exceed the EPA standard by 2050, and 47 are on track to reach chloride concentrations of 100 milligrams/liter during the same time period.

    “These results are likely an underestimation of the salinization problem, as a number of regions with heavy road-salt application, such as Quebec or the Maritime Provinces of Canada, had no long-term lake data available,” said co-author Flora Krivak-Tetley, a graduate student at Dartmouth College.

    High chloride levels in lakes have been shown to alter the composition of fish, invertebrates, and the plankton that form the base of the aquatic food web.

    That can reduce aquatic species and, in extreme cases, salinization can cause low oxygen conditions that smother aquatic life and reduce water quality, the study noted.

  • 20 Dec 2019 7:02 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    As Canadians, we spend much of our time walking in a winter wonderland — yet one researcher at the University of Saskatchewan suggests we remain in the fog on snow and ice.

    "It's exciting how little we know, in a way," said Tara Kahan. "Water is everywhere — it's so important to us, our lives, [but] when it's frozen, we don't know a lot about it."

    Kahan, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and the Canada Research Chair in Analytical Environmental Chemistry, has already spent more than a decade studying snow and ice, with an emphasis on what happens to pollutants trapped in a frozen state.

    "We are used to pollution in lakes, rivers and stuff like that. All those pollutants can also end up in snow and ice, but what happens to them might be different," Kahan said.

    Frozen fossil fuels 

    Kahan is focused on pollutants that come from fossil fuels. She cites the example of benzene, which is sometimes found in high concentrations in snow and ice in places like gas stations, areas where hydraulic fracturing is used to search for oil and gas, or in busy shipping lanes.

    In water, benzene does not react to sunlight. In ice, Kahan said it's a much different story — everything speeds up.

    "This could be a really good thing," she said. "For example, if there's an oil spill and they're reacting really quickly with the sun shining on that snow, maybe it's cleaning [the pollutants] up.

    "But on the other hand, they could be making something more toxic than what they started with, in which case this fast reaction would be bad. But we don't know yet."

    Given Kahan's academic commitment to snow and ice you might imagine her trekking to icy and remote regions seeking out pristine snow to sample, but she admits she "doesn't like to be cold."

    So her work is done methodically in a laboratory at the U of S — a lab full of ice cube trays.

    Tip of the iceberg 

    As Kahan slowly unlocks the chemical mysteries of snow and ice, the findings will be enhanced by existing computer models to hopefully predict what will happen to the pollutants she's studying. 

    That should help to shed light on some very important questions, she says.

    "We'll be able to just put this data into the model and then predict whether things are going to be good or bad — whether we need to worry, or whether we're really going to be remediating things and cleaning up the snow and ice."

    Kahan said that improved understanding of the chemical reaction of pollutants trapped in snow and ice will become vital in trying to mitigate environmental damage in fragile ecosystems.

    "The Arctic, actually, is a huge concern because as the winters warm … we're expecting a lot more shipping traffic. There's going to be a lot more pollution there."

    While the fog may lift on the issue of pollutants, Kahan doesn't think her work in understanding all the mysteries of snow and ice will ever be done, because there are so many things she would like to explore — topics like "sea ice, or ice that has road salt in it," she said.

    Kahan is all in on ice — as long as she doesn't have to spend too much time in the cold.

  • 16 Dec 2019 7:36 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The World Wildlife Fund is urging Ontarians to cut back on road salt. 

    The environmental agency says road salt is a critical threat to freshwater and wildlife in the province. 

    Elizabeth Hendriks is Vice-President of freshwater with WWF Canada, and appeared on The Mike Farwell Show on 570 NEWS on Tuesday. 

    "In June of this past summer, we released a WWF Great Lakes Chloride Hot Spot Map. What we're looking at is an increasing trend of use. In the winter time, we can see the water has as much salt as oceans do in certain locations, so this is really damaging to our fresh water."

    Hendriks said there's a lot of research looking at alternative methods.

    "You hear about beet juice and different practices. At the scale that we need to use it though - with major highways and parking lots - we don't know that there's not other impacts. Some alternatives like beet juice can be used on a small scale, but we don't know about the larger impacts of those solutions."

    Hendriks said the WWF is working with some municipalities, conservation authorities, and private property owners.

    "We need to use less salt, but we don't want people to do that and then get a bunch of complaints. So it's really about knowing when to use salt .. beyond minus 10, road salt isn't that effective anymore. Shovelling is effective first, and distribution is really important. So we try to promote best practices with private industry, and working with the government to work on regulation that incentivize small business owners to use best practices as well."

    According to the WWF, more than 7-million tonnes of road salt is used each winter by public road agencies in Canada. 

    "It's cheap, it's easy to use, we know it's effective .. and a big part is, I don't think we knew the extent of the problem. When people hear about this issue, they really respond. They care about our fresh water, and so once we are aware of it, I think we'll really see people changing their actions."

    Hendriks said this isn't a problem that can be fixed overnight.

    "It will take time for a reduction. Even in the summer, we're seeing the impacts .. just because salt and the winter disappears, the salt isn't necessarily disappearing in a season. But ultimately the salt will dissipate as it works its way out of the environment."

    To read more about the WWF's report, click here.

  • 16 Dec 2019 6:58 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    KITCHENER -- What is the cost of salting roads – financially and environmentally?

    The World Wildlife Fund is urging Ontarians to cut back on road salts that they say are a critical threat to freshwater and wildlife in the province.

    “In winter we sometimes see ocean levels of salt,” said Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of fresh water for WWF Canada. “The levels we’re seeing are just outrageous and habitats can’t [handle] those levels of input.”

    While the tri-cities follow salt management plans to reduce salt use and environmental expense, their  spending can still reach past the one million dollar mark.

    The city of Cambridge spent $555,000 for 6,100 tonnes of salt this fall, while Kitchener spends an annual average of $1.3 million for 15,500 tonnes, and Waterloo spends $775,000 for 8,512 tonnes.

    These totals do not account for any additional purchases of salt later in the winter or how much private contractors use.

    Private contractor Clintar Kitchener uses an average of 5,000-6,000 tonnes per year and has been certified by the ‘Smart About Salt Council’.

    “The whole goal is to recognize and try to develop practices that reduce the amount of salt used,” said Jim Maloney, owner of Cintar Kitchener. “How you do it, how much you apply, how often you do apply.”

    He says they try to apply alternatives when they can.

    “There are some liquid products, salt brine, there’s magnesium-based products,” said Maloney. “There are alternatives.”

    WWF Canada commends Waterloo Region and municipalities for their efforts to reduce road salts, but says the long-term impacts of salt alternatives are still unknown.

    They add that research is being done to find out what they are and how much money they can save.

  • 10 Dec 2019 6:51 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    As Toronto deals with fluctuating winter weather, environmental advocates say excessive road salt is harming Ontario wildlife — and they're urge people to use less.

    Salt used to melt icy roads and sidewalks can end up flowing into rivers, lakes and soil, creating dangerously salty environments for some freshwater plants and animals.

    In certain areas during winter, "some of our rivers will have salt as high as oceans," said Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of freshwater with the World Wildlife Fund Canada. 

    Some frog and salamander species can't breed in ponds with high salt volumes, said Environment Canada scientist Patricia Gillis, while rivers can become salty enough to kill young freshwater mussels.

    "Impacts to even a few species can effect the whole ecosystem," said Gillis in an email.

    Many people tend to use too much salt, said Hendriks, who previously said a small pill bottle worth of road salt is all you need to melt a city sidewalk slab.

    "People tend to lather road salt on the ice," said Angela Murphy, manager with Ryerson Urban Water.

    "It's really not necessary."

    The WWF is working with Ryerson University to use less salt on campus.

    In a pilot program last year, Murphy says they used six fewer tonnes of slat by spraying a mixture of slat and water called brine in four test locations prior to snow and freezing rain.

    "It was just as effective," says Murphy, who says Ryerson made the brine in-house and it did not hurt public safety.

    "There was no increase in liability, no increase in complaints...there's really no need for people to apply so much road salt."

    There team is scaling up the project this winter, Murphy said, and studying the impact of using brine in place of road salt in certain city areas.

    City uses 130, tones of road salt

    The city of Toronto uses more than 130,000 tonnes of road salt each winter, as well as brine and some salt alternatives.. 

    However, City of Toronto spokesperson Eric Holmes said salt is the most cost effective and efficient way to clear ice from roadways.

    The city has to balance negative environmental impacts, he said, but their focus is on public safety.

    The city implemented a salt management plan in 2002 to reduce salt use, Holmes said, which reduce salt usage 15 per cent in its the first 15 years.

    They also put down salt brine before a storm, he said, and city trucks use automated equipment to determine where to spread salt based on road temperature.

    Last year they also used beet juice a few times, Holmes said. But while it works in colder temperatures than road salt, he said, beet juice is harder to get and more expensive.

    Although safety is critical, Hendriks said both public roadways and private properties contribute to over-salting in Ontario's lakes and rivers.

    She points to information programs like "Smart About Salt," where contractors and property owners can learn ways to reduce their salt usage.

    "Everything we do on the land feeds into our river system and into [Lake Ontario]," Hendriks said.

    "What we do on the land and on our roads matters."

  • 09 Dec 2019 9:52 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    According to information from the the cities of Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo, a combined 43,000 tonnes of salt will be used to keep roads ice-free this winter. 

    All that salt costs $3.8 million each year.

    Responsibility for salting and snow removal is split between the cities and the regional government. Each has its own fleet of trucks, de-icing methods, and salt purchase price.

    Salt by the numbers

    Kitchener buys the most salt among the four governments, but their purchase price per tonne is by far the least. They pay $1.3 million annually for 15,500 tonnes. While the others in the region pay about $90 a tonne, Kitchener pays $83. 

    The eight per cent difference adds up to significant revenue savings. Were Kitchener to pay the same price as the other governments, their salt would cost an additional $108,000 dollars per year. 

    They spread an average 13 tonnes of salt on each kilometre of road they are responsible for clearing. 

    Cambridge uses the least amount of salt on its roads, averaging only five tonnes for each kilometre. They also purchase the least salt, spending $600,000 on 6,500 tonnes annually. 

    A spokesperson from Cambridge noted that the city receives significantly less snowfall than other municipalities in the region. 

    No regulations for parking lots, sidewalks

    That 43,000 tonnes is likely only half of the total salt being used in the Waterloo region says Claire Oswald, associate professor of geography and environmental science at Ryerson University. 

    "Double that, and maybe add a bit more, and then you would have what is actually going on to the landscape," she said. 

    According to Oswald, there are regulations on how much salt should be put on government roads, but those regulations don't exist for parking lots, sidewalks and other private spaces.

    Over-salting comes from public expectations and liability concerns, she said.

    Paul Johnson, operations manager for Wellington County, makes the same argument.

    "I would say that most contractors out there will get a lawsuit a season, at least. That's per site," he said. 

    "It depends on how big they are, they might have 60, 70, 80, maybe 100 or more sites that they maintain and so, the potential is quite great that they'll get a lawsuit." 

    Health and environmental impacts

    Eventually, that salt makes its way off the roads and into the environment says Eric Hodgins, manager of hydrogeology and source water at the Region of Waterloo. 

    "We see increasing sodium and chloride levels in pretty much every single one of our wells. The concentrations are increasing to the extent that they exceed, in many cases, the Ontario drinking water standard, for either sodium or chloride," he said. 

    Elevated salt levels in lakes and streams also have a detrimental effect on the smaller organisms living in them says Derek Gray, a professor of Biology at Wilfrid Laurier University.

    He added that these bugs and plankton end up passing the salt up the food chain to larger animals such as fish and birds.

    Cutting back

    Over the last few years, local governments have moved to reduce their salt use. 

    They've employed computerized spreaders that control how much salt is put down depending on the speed of the vehicle.

    Many municipalities also pre-wet the salt, making it sticky and less likely to bounce off the road when applied.

    There are also pre-storm brine sprays used by some municipalities, Eric Hodgins said. They make snow removal easier by preventing it from binding to the road in the first place. 

    Though salt use changes from year to year depending on weather, a spokesperson for the City of Waterloo said they cut their salt usage by 6,000 tonnes between 2013 and 2017. 

  • 06 Dec 2019 9:15 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    TORONTO -- Contractors in the snow removal business say an increase in “slip and fall” accidents is causing insurance premiums for their business to skyrocket.

    Dave Fraser runs DHF Contracting in Oshawa and has 20 employees who clear snow for commercial properties and school boards.

    “Insurance companies are canceling us,” Fraser said. “They don't want us anymore and if they are taking us on are rates are going up astronomically. It’s forcing us out of business."

    Fraser said that because there is one open slip and fall claim against his company, his insurance premiums went up almost 400 per cent.

    “My insurance was $16,000 last year. This year my current quote is $60,000 for the same coverage," said Fraser.

    Jeanette Hiddink also has a snow removal business. She says her premiums jumped $10,000 this fall. even without a claim.

    “It makes you feel you're not going to be able to run your business and you’re not going to be able to employ your people and all my people have families. They need the money. They need the job,” Hiddink said.

    Just a single slip and fall accident can lead to a six-figure payout. Jamie Cardella is the president of HUB Markham, which is the largest provider of snow removal insurance policies in Ontario. He said that even when snow removal operators do a great job removing snow, ice and salting parking lots, it can be difficult to keep up with winter conditions.

    “You could clean a lot and the lot could have snow on it again 40 minutes later. Someone could slip on the ice or snow and they're (the snow removal contractor) getting brought into a lawsuit."

    While municipalities, towns and cities have a 10-day statute of limitations on slip and fall claims, a person has two years to file a claim against a snow removal contractor. The industry wants that reduced to 10 days as well.

    Cardella’s advice to snow removal contractors is to review their contracts and insurance policies carefully.

    “They should be looking at their contracts, working with their broker and trying to get the best language they can possible to try and avoid these liabilities," Cardella said.

    Fraser said rising insurance premiums means eventually everyone will have to pay more.

    “At the end of the day this hurts the consumer because these costs have to be passed down and the consumer is the end user. They are going to have to pay" said Fraser.

    Rising rates are also affecting snow plow operators who do residential driveways. There is a concern some may be clearing snow without insurance coverage because they can't afford to pay for the premiums.

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