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  • 10 Apr 2024 7:05 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Salt has been mined in Windsor for more than 130 years. Will climate change shift that? | CBC News

    Last week, the owner of a Windsor mine that produces road salt laid off 150 people. The company said warmer weather meant less demand for road salt, and thus they would be idling production.

    So how might climate change impact the salt mining industry?

    Peter Crank, an urban geographer, climatologist and professor at the University of Waterloo, says it's not time to panic just yet.

    While it's challenging to predict the weather conditions of the next few winters, Crank says snowier winters than this one might be in store for southern Ontario.

    Crank spoke with CBC Radio's Windsor Morning host Amy Dodge. Here is part of their conversation.

    How would you classify the winter we just had? 

    This past winter has been exceptionally warm here for us in southern Ontario. We haven't had quite as much snow as we typically tend to see here in this part of Canada.

    What should we expect when it comes to winter weather because of the climate change in the years and the decades to come?

    One of the things that makes this a really tricky question, particularly for us to answer, is that climate and weather aren't always perfectly in sync.

    One of my colleagues back in the U.S., Marshall Shepherd, [says] climate is like our personality, but weather is like our mood. Maybe we're a really optimistic person. That doesn't necessarily mean that every single day we're going to walk into work or into our home and have a positive mentality. The weather is oftentimes like that. It changes much more quickly, whereas climate tends to be a bit more stable.

    A line of trucks waits on the right side of the road. One truck in the distance drives up the left side of the road. The sky is hazy with precipitation.

    A long line of trucks waiting for a load of salt at the Ojibway Mine in Windsor, Ont. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

    If we think about Ontario and our winters coming up in the next decades, we can certainly expect to see some warmer winters. But there also is a good chance that we'll see some colder winters that will have just as much snow as we used to have.

    And what difference would warmer, less snowy weather make when it comes to how much salt is needed for city streets and highways?

    So if we see a decrease in snow, then we might need less salt to make sure that our roads are safe within the city.

    One of the challenges that we find here in southern Ontario is that if our temperatures warm, that means that the Great Lakes don't freeze over, which means that we could see lake effect snow for longer periods in the first half of the winter. And if they never freeze over, there's always a threat for lake effect. So that could result in us having more snow, even, as the climate warms.

    I'm also wondering how this ties into the salt industry, at least for ice melting purposes. Do we expect the industry to decline?

    This is [happening] not just with salt mining, but in a lot of different sectors within society. They're utilizing climate science to support decision making.

    This, I think, is going to become a case-by-case basis, where economies, sectors and individual businesses are going to have to really start to talk more with climatologists, learning the specifics of their location as well as their sector within the economy to begin to make these decisions.

    It may be something where, in the future we see climatologists and other climate change experts being either hired to be able to make these decisions.

    Right now, it's hard to say what the future will look like in terms of the use of salt. But these are definitely things that companies are considering.

    There's also been quite a bit of study about the harmful environmental effects of road salt. Might this be an upside of climate change if less is used?

    We typically think of [climate change] in negative terms, and there certainly are a lot of negative impacts from climate change. 

    However, that certainly could have benefits to our water quality here in southern Ontario, as well as potentially creating fewer potholes, which means we don't have to repair our roads as often. We may see longer growing seasons as well.

    But we certainly cannot forget that there are still negative impacts and that there are lots of other places across the globe that are being more negatively impacted than here in Canada.

  • 05 Apr 2024 7:04 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salt lowers the risk of deadly collisions—but it’s also killing Halifax’s lakes. What’s the answer? | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

    As Halifax heaves a final sigh of winter this weekend—with up to 20 centimetres of wet and heavy snow expected to fall—the city’s contracted road and sidewalk crews will, almost assuredly, be waiting for one last call to spring into action, plows, shovels and piles of salt at the ready. It’s been a busy winter for them: Halifax endured historic snowstorms in January and February, turning boulevards into six-foot snow banks and streets into slippery messes. That has come at a cost—and not just to your back for all the shovelling. A growing body of research suggests that HRM’s most-used de-icing tool—road salt—is harming life in our watershed. And the degree to which road salt is affecting our lakes’ health is reaching levels we haven’t seen before. One in five Halifax lakes has high chloride levels, study finds Last spring, researchers at Dalhousie University’s Centre for Water Resource Studies shared a landmark report drawing on six years of water samples collected from 57 lakes across the HRM. Municipal staff collected the samples three times a year between 2006 and 2011. The findings paint a stark picture: Nearly one in five of the surveyed lakes—including Lake Banook, Chocolate Lake and Russell Lake—exceeded federal guidelines for chronic exposure to chloride, while another 15% were considered at “high risk” for reaching the exposure threshold. (The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment says that once a freshwater body reaches 120 milligrams of chloride per litre over longer periods, aquatic life—including fish species, invertebrates and freshwater plants—begins to fall under threat. But some researchers are starting to believe that threshold could be as much as three times lower.) Bermarija et al., 2023. "Assessing and predicting Lake Chloride Concentrations in the Lake-Rich Urbanizing Halifax Region, Canada." Journal of Hydrology. Dalhousie researchers surveyed samples from 57 lakes in a six-year period and found nearly one in five exceeded federal guidelines for chronic exposure to chloride. That’s a concern, according to Rob Jamieson. The Dalhousie professor—who supervised the 2023 report—is one of Atlantic Canada’s foremost researchers into water quality. Speaking by phone with The Coast one winter morning, he says there’s a “whole suite of effects” that begin when salt is introduced into a lake. “Some freshwater species… just cannot tolerate increasing levels of salt within the water body,” he tells The Coast, “and what we’re seeing is that increased salt levels really impacts certain components of the food web quite significantly.” Take zooplankton, for example: One of the bottom rungs of the aquatic food chain, the mini-crustaceans feed on phytoplankton—plant bacteria, more or less—and serve as food to a bevy of small fish and big bugs. (Winnipeg-based lake scientist Michael Paterson has called the species the “centre of the open-water food web” of most lakes.) If zooplankton die earlier and reproduce in fewer numbers in saltier lakes—as research suggests—that begins to create “knock-on effects all throughout the aquatic food web,” Jamieson says. Like a Jenga tower, enough pieces pulled from the bottom will send the whole thing tumbling. Then, there’s the health of the water itself at issue. Research has shown high chloride levels can hinder lakes’ self-circulating ability, creating tiers of dense, salt-rich water at the bottom of lakes that can’t replenish with oxygen from the atmosphere. While in ordinary circumstances, a lake will “turn over” twice a year—in spring and fall—too much chloride can delay or “completely stop” the process, Jamieson tells The Coast. Ben MacLeod (CC BY-SA 4.0) Chocolate Lake is among 11 Halifax-area lakes identified as exceeding recommended chloride levels, according to a 2023 Dalhousie study. “You end up with the salty layers of water that are at the bottom of the lake, and they're not getting back up to the surface,” Jamieson adds. “And so they’re just sitting there, [and] all the oxygen is being depleted from those bodies of water.” That causes its own raft of issues. (Fish, as with many life forms, need oxygen to live.) “But also,” Jamieson says, “when you have anoxic water sitting at the bottom of the lake, it causes some geochemical reactions that release certain other contaminants from the bottom of lakes… things like phosphorus, things like arsenic.” Long-term study finds urban development a high predictor for salt levels in lakes Dalhousie’s 2023 study is far from the first or longest-running to link the effects of de-icing salt with Halifax’s changing lakes. For 35 years, former Dal professor Rick Scott followed the health of nine lakes throughout the HRM, before and after surrounding neighbourhoods underwent development. He started in 1982 and carried on until 2017. Scott’s 2019 paper, published in the Journal of Environmental Management, stands alone for its longitudinal work. Among its more salient findings are that urban development is the “most significant explanatory variable” for chloride levels, and—more troublingly—that chloride lasts in Halifax’s lakes long after the region’s roads have been salted and washed away by the rain. If a lake is like a Jenga tower, then chloride might best be described as turmeric in a kitchen, or dog hair on a couch: Once it’s there, it’s not going away anytime soon. Perhaps surprisingly, some of the longest-lasting effects can be found in watersheds when salt doesn’t wash right into a lake. When salt runoff makes its way from Halifax’s roads into forests or grasslands before ending up in the groundwater, Jamieson says, it’s possible to see higher chloride levels “for months, and sometimes even years, depending on how long it takes for that salt to travel through those hydrologic pathways.” All of which poses a rather meaty—or in this case, briny—question: What the heck do we do about salt? What do we do about road salt? Councillors Sam Austin and Shawn Cleary are both well acquainted with the delicate health of Halifax’s urban lakes. As councillors for Dartmouth Centre and Halifax West Armdale, respectively, the two live in—and represent—two of the most lake-rich areas in Halifax’s urban core. (Those same districts also include some of the lakes most under threat from too much salt.) And while neither would claim to be a biologist—“as a councillor, you find yourself being a generalist in everything and an expert on nothing,” Austin tells The Coast—both have found themselves caught up in Halifax’s internal tug-of-war over how to protect the region’s urban lakes. In Cleary’s district, community efforts to protect Williams Lake led to the creation of the Shaw Wilderness Park—even if it made the Shaw Group millions in the process—and in Dartmouth’s Oathill Lake neigbourhood, Austin has played troubleshooter for keeping road salt levels low while maintaining a salted walking path on Lorne Avenue, which has no sidewalk of its own. Nature Conservancy of Canada Part of Halifax's magic is that wild places like Williams Lake exist near urban spaces. “Where we have lakes that are still vibrant, we want to keep them as vibrant as possible for as long as possible,” Cleary says, speaking by phone with The Coast. Even still, it’s a balancing act: In Halifax’s winters—shorter though they may be—it only takes one overnight freeze after a bit of wet snow to upend our city’s fragile transportation network. In December 2016, the RCMP responded to 40 car crashes in the Halifax area on a single snowy day. A three-car crash in 2020 shut down the Macdonald Bridge. “You have to keep people safe,” Cleary adds. “You can’t have vehicles sliding around on the road, and you can’t have people slipping on the sidewalks.” Related Weekend snowstorm hammers Halifax, rest of Nova Scotia: Expect more flurries through Monday, with winds gusting to 50 kilometres per hour as a cut-off low sits above the HRM. Road salt has become almost a given in Canada in 2024. In use since the 1940s, it has proven popular for one simple reason: It works. By lowering the freezing point of water, road salt allows ice to melt in otherwise below-freezing temperatures. Canadians go through around five million tonnes every year. But it’s not without dangers: Environment and Climate Change Canada labeled it a “toxic substance” as far back as 2001. Road salt is corrosive. And beyond its harmful effects on freshwater ecosystems, it’s a pain in the ass on our roads, sidewalks and cars. “That’s another thing people often don’t consider,” Cleary says. “When you’re using salt, you’re degrading the concrete and asphalt, you’re degrading people’s vehicles as they’re driving around on salted roads, and especially on pedestrian-oriented main streets—I think of Quinpool—where you have buildings [opening onto the sidewalk], you’re corroding steel doors and windows and other things.” Martin Bauman / The Coast The Ardmore Tea Room co-owner Kelly Cormier shovels snow in front of her Quinpool Road diner on Jan. 29, 2024. It’s not as if alternatives don’t exist. Sand is another possibility, Austin says, but there are drawbacks: Even in sand, there’s still a small amount of salt—“because as you mix it together, if you just have sand, and then you have the humidity in the sand, it clumps together. And it doesn’t actually give you the grip that you need on the road.” It also tends to blow away. Brine is another solution, which the HRM already uses—and which Jamieson endorses. When it’s sprayed on roads before a snowstorm, it can help to reduce the need for heavier salting. As a bonus, it doesn’t have as much of a long-term negative effect as coarse salt. But smaller though the harm may be, it’s still there. Which raises another question: As far back as 2015, HRM council resolved to have staff investigate alternative de-icers. So what happened? The council debate 2015 was a doozy of a winter in Halifax. Hammonds Plains saw as much as 74 centimetres of snow after one March blizzard. The HRM banned on-street parking indefinitely until it could widen the roads. Snowboarders took to the streets in Dartmouth. It was in that same winter that then-councillor Linda Mosher brought forward a motion to direct staff to “consider evaluating the best practices for management of our streets during icing conditions when salt does not work.” Related Beet juice and cheese brine could season Halifax's icy roads: Council may investigate organic alternatives to rock salt.
 “My concern is that as global warming continues, and what we’re being told are atypical winters may become the new normal … it would be great if best practices and strategies from other cities could be evaluated,” Mosher told her colleagues at HRM council’s Feb. 24, 2015 meeting. Mosher pointed to the successes of solutions like beet juice, cheese brine, pickle brine and sugar-cane molasses as worthy of a look. Of those four, beet juice—which, like salt, lowers the freezing point of water, but unlike salt, is both non-corrosive and non-toxic—has seen the most traction, to pardon the pun. Saint John’s Harbour Bridge Authority introduced beet juice as a de-icer back in 2005—and, for the first time, saw no crashes from slippery roads in both January and February. By 2010, Montreal and Transport Quebec were experimenting with the sugary compound. Toronto had adopted a beet-juice blend in 2014. Photo: VV Nincic via Flickr (CC BY 2.0). The City of Toronto introduced a beet-juice blend into its winter road maintenance program in 2014. Council agreed with Mosher’s proposal. And the HRM’s Winter Operations crew did eventually test beet juice, a municipal spokesperson tells The Coast. But—in a Simpsons “Bolivian Tree Lizard”-esque scenario—the sugary solution created a different problem: It “attracted many rodents,” the spokesperson says. (Bring in the Chinese needle snakes!) Plus, the beet juice was sticking to people’s shoes and ending up in their homes. Some studies have also found that a few freshwater species—mayflies, in particular—don’t respond well to the higher levels of potassium in beets. So where does that leave us? Switching salt diet for a road diet There may be no perfect solution for clearing Halifax’s roads—not without significant expense, in any case. (The city could, in theory, hire more crews to plow streets and sidewalks around the clock, scraping down to the pavement after each snowfall, but that would come with a price tag.) But there’s another possibility to explore: If Halifax can’t curb its salt use, it could extend its curbs. If, broadly speaking, the aim of road salt is road safety, then the HRM could take a page from what the University of North Carolina’s highway safety research Libby Thomas calls “one of the transportation safety field’s greatest success stories” and reclaim space from its widened collector roads and arterials for things like larger public parks, permanent patios and protected bike lanes. (Imagine, say, a genuinely car-free Spring Garden Road.) It only takes looking at Halifax after a snowfall to see how much road space could be repurposed. Victoria Walton/The Coast When it snows, the part of the road that cars actually use is exposed—and a lot more space for pedestrians, too. Research shows that when cities allocate less space to cars on their roads, crashes decrease. More investment into public spaces would support the HRM’s Integrated Mobility Plan aims of “prioritizing the movement of people over vehicles” and “creating links between people and communities.” And while wider sidewalks and bike lanes would still need to be cleared of snow, every lane of road reclaimed for other uses is less salt winding up in Halifax’s lakes. Idealistic? Maybe. Halifax is taking small steps in that direction: The HRM slimmed down part of Prince Albert Road in an effort to slow traffic, improve stormwater drainage in the area and make it more walkable. The municipality could do with more of it—even if councillor Austin doubts a full-scale road diet is on the horizon. “Does that change the water on the beans, as they say? I don’t think it does,” he tells The Coast. “Not in our current societal movement, anyway.” But here’s the thing about movements: They’re not all that different from lakes, in the end. It just takes one ripple to spread.

  • 03 Apr 2024 6:13 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Demand for road and safety salt drops | Windsor Star

    An unseasonably warm winter resulted in Windsor Salt laying off 150 workers on Tuesday due to a lack of demand for products produced from its Windsor mining operations.

    Windsor Salt announced that the layoffs are indefinite and the firm will monitor market conditions to determine when to resume production. The company, owned by Los Angeles-based Stone Canyon Industries, plans to retain 18 clerical employees.

    In a public statement, a spokesperson for the company said it was idling its Ojibway mine due to the mild weather this winter leading to a softening demand for road salt and safety salt bags. The mine also produces agricultural salt for animal seed.

    The Ojibway mine is one of two locations operated by Windsor Salt locally since 1893. Canada’s largest producer of salt also produces finer salt for consumption.

    The company said Windsor’s evaporative salt plant is not affected by the layoffs.

    Between the two sites, there are about 250 employees at the west-end Windsor operation.

    The layoffs come only seven months after the company and Unifor Locals 1959 and 240 settled a 192-day strike last August. Union officials were not immediately available for comment.

  • 31 Mar 2024 8:28 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Industry group joins environmentalists asking Ontario for new laws to reduce road salt | CBC News

    An industry group representing contractors who salt icy roads and parking lots is joining environmentalists in asking for new regulations to protect ecosystems and waterways from salinated runoff.

    Landscape Ontario, which represents about 1,200 snow and ice management contractors, says its members' desire to use less salt is stymied by legislation that holds contractors liable for injuries such as slips and falls.

    Joe Salemi, Landscape Ontario's executive director who lives in Hamilton, says many of the same contractors who work in horticulture in the summer, planting trees, shrubs and gardens, do ice and snow contracting in the winter, laying salt they know negatively impacts plants and the environment. 

    "It's an awful situation where we just want to be good stewards but in the winter, that all just goes out the window," Salemi told CBC Hamilton this week. "It comes down to liability."

    He said that the way current legislation is written, any liability for ice and snow-related injury claims falls on the snow removal contractor.

    "Invariably what happens is the snow and ice contractor uses way more salt than they need to because they are fearful, or the property manager puts pressure on them to use more salt than they need to," Salemi said.

    "Some contractors put down so much salt. Often the salt itself becomes a hazard."

    Two people shake hands in front of other people and some heavy machinery.

    Joe Salemi, Landscape Ontario’s executive director, left, shakes hands with Premier Doug Ford on Oct. 24, 2023. The group was at Queen's Park to lobby for better regulation and reduced liability for snow and ice clearing contractors. (Landscape Ontario/Aisha Shaikh)

    His group would like the legislation changed so contractors and property managers share the liability, but is also proposing the creation of an oversight body for the industry that would require contractors to have training and accreditation, including related to salt use.

    Ideally, he says, the contractors who became accredited could then be held harmless from liability claims, something that would have the added benefit of keeping more contractors in an industry struggling with dwindling numbers due to increased slip and fall claims and insurance costs.

    "Oversalting puts our natural environment at risk, and it will continue unless legislative changes are made to regulate the industry and address the liability concerns," states a document circulated by Landscape Ontario entitled A Call for Change. "Oversalting will harm our freshwater systems, drinking water, vegetation, and wildlife."

    New Ontario coalition calls for 'urgent action'

    The organization's calls parallel those by environmental groups asking the province to protect Ontario's fresh water from increasing salt runoff and "chloride pollution."

    A newly-formed group, the Ontario Salt Pollution Coalition, wrote to Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister Andrea Khanjin on March 22 — World Water Day — asking the government to "undertake urgent action" to create water quality standards, regulation and enforcement to protect the Great Lakes and the rivers that feed into them.

    "Road salts represent the largest source of chloride inputs into Ontario waters," states the letter.

    "Ontario makes up less than 11 per cent of Canada's landmass, but it is the biggest user of road salts in the nation. Your Ministry's scientific data shows conclusively that salt has been and continues to be a threat to aquatic ecosystems which is increasing in magnitude over time. 

    "For example, data from the open-source Ontario Data Catalogue [shows] chloride levels in rivers and streams in urban areas often exceeds Canadian Water Quality Guideline of 120 milligrams per litre... and are increasing," it adds. "Drinking water intakes, even in large lakes like Lake Ontario, have reached 30 mg/l chloride and are increasing."

    The group, which includes Water Watchers, Environmental Defence and the Ontario Rivers Alliance, wants the province to put together a broad-based working group to draft policy on the issue.

    "Salty runoff into freshwater systems degrades water quality, endangers drinking water sources, jeopardizes aquatic life, and damages ecosystems," states the letter.

    "Elevated chloride levels can be toxic to fish, insects, and amphibians, disrupting the delicate balance of our waterways. Furthermore, salt corrodes infrastructure from bridges to plumbing systems, incurring costly repairs."

    Elevated salt levels in local creeks

    Increased salt content is also a risk to drinking water, says Robert Edmondson, chair of the Halton-Hamilton Source Protection Committee, which is tasked with forming plans to protect the region's drinking water sources.

    He said salt content has continued to increase in recent years in both waterways and wells.

    "It's a function of how much salt has been going on the roads," he said, noting he is aware of the liability issues contractors face. 

    He said the smaller creeks near Burlington's border with Hamilton, such as Spencer Creek and Grindstone Creek, as well as Tuck Creek in Burlington, are all dealing with elevated salt levels.

    "It can impact people who have intolerance to salt," he said, noting many people are medically required to undertake low-salt diets, but it's hard to avoid if it's in the water. "Of course, it also affects the taste of the water you're drinking."

    Province says it's 'committed' to protecting waterways

    Gary Wheeler, spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, said in an email the province is "committed" to "encouraging the sensible use and storage of snow and de-icing products" and protecting waterways.

    Wheeler said Ontario has invested $1.4M since 2018 to address chloride monitoring and excess road salt.

    He said the ministry works to promote operator certification and road salt alternatives. Wheeler also pointed to provincial guidance which recommends:

    • Only using as much salt as you need to do the job.
    • Use equipment that controls how fast the salt is distributed, so it doesn't just match the vehicle's speed.
    • Only salt main thoroughfares and critical sections of other roadways, such as inclines, intersections, crosswalks.

  • 22 Mar 2024 3:29 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Guelph advocate calls on Ontario to curb road salt pollution for World Water Day | CBC News

    For World Water Day, the Ontario Salt Pollution Coalition is sounding the alarm on the damage done by road salt and is calling on the province to do more to mitigate the risk of contamination to groundwater, rivers and lakes as well as to drinking water. 

    The group sent a letter Thursday to Andrea Khanjin, the Ontario minister of the environment, conservation and parks, asking for the province to take "urgent action" to curb the effects of road salt pollution. 

    They want the province "to create ecologically protective water quality standards, regulation, and enforcement for chloride pollution in Ontario water bodies under its obligations through the Canada-Ontario Great Lakes Agreement," the letter read.  

    World Water Day is on March 22 and is an international event started by the United Nations to draw attention to the importance of drinking water conservation. 

    The collective Canada-Ontario Great Lakes Agreement was established in 2021 to "protect and restore the Great Lakes" and has a clause about mitigating the risks from "harmful pollutants." 

    "At the end of the day, the province needs to be the leader, needs to put out policy that's protective, needs to fund this work because it's going to take some work to get there," said Dani Lindamood, a co-ordinator with the coalition who co-signed the letter. She is also the program's director with the Guelph-based group Wellington Water Watchers.

    "So the province, we really say, is the key here."  

    Lindamood said salt can accumulate in soil and water and will eventually make its way to the great lakes — this not only affects drinking water, but biodiversity too. 

    A person walks on a sidewalk past a pile of road salt.

    The Ontario Salt Pollution Coalition sent a letter to the province on the eve of World Water Day, asking them to do more about road salt pollution. (James Chaarani/CBC)

    More road salt used

    Lindamood said the sodium chloride contamination of waters comes exclusively from road salt and "the problem has just gotten worse over time." 

    She explained  the influx of use is, in part, due to liability, where excessive salt is applied to roads and sidewalks for fear of being sued.

    This is something that could be curbed by what she calls a "limited liability approach" where a person can have some legal protection so long as they adhere to a certain standard.  

    "It's not a perfect model but it is better than what we have because right now we have no standards." 

    Another issue she pointed to: As more land is developed, there are subsequently more sidewalks, parking lots and roads to salt, making matters worse.  

    "Reducing salt application on roads, parking lots and sidewalks is something that requires support from all community members, including the winter maintenance industry, property owners, area municipalities and residents," said Mari MacNeil, the water and wastewater services director with the Region of Waterloo, in an email statement. 

    "So our efforts to protect our wells from salt will continue as part of our long term strategy work to provide safe, clean drinking water to the community."

    Salt alternatives

    Lindamood said plowing roads more often would be a viable alternative to salting. She believes that making snow tires mandatory in the winter could help too. 

    "In Ontario, the standard that we try to operate to is to remove the evidence of winter completely from our roads," she said. "And I think it's really symbolic of the ways that we're disconnected from the season itself."    

    She explained sand might be a good option in some cases but she'd also like the province to look into other chemical alternatives to salt to "evaluate the information that's out there on the different alternatives" and "do research if it's needed."  

    Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, said in an emailed statement that they've received and are reviewing the letter by the coalition and the ministry is "committed to encouraging the sensible use and storage of snow and de-icing products." 

    "This includes our ongoing funding support and collaboration on important programs that address environmental issues associated with the use of road salt on roads, walkways and parking lots during the winter," Wheeler said.

    He pointed to the province's guidelines on snow disposal and de-icing operations, where they offer suggestions on how to use road salts.

    Wheeler added that as of 2018, they have "invested over $1.4 million in 11 projects that address chloride monitoring and excess road salt." 

    "The ministry is continually working to monitor chloride discharges in the environment and support the implementation of policies and practices that minimize impacts on our lakes and rivers and ensure roads and walkways can be safely used during the winter," Wheeler said. 

  • 13 Mar 2024 6:58 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Lake Simcoe Watershed suffers from winter salt pollution (

    Salt goes wherever water goes, and in northern York Region more and more winter salt has slipped invisibly into rivers such as the East Holland, local groundwater and Lake Simcoe.

    “Once it’s in the environment, you can’t get it out,” Bill Thompson, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority’s watershed planning manager, said last month.

    The authority knows waterways around the lake have absorbed steadily increasing amounts of salt since the 1970s. Its watershed report card last year said LSRCA is working with municipalities and industry to scale back salt use, but admits “climate change, urban expansion, and increasing public expectation (on winter safety) are making reductions difficult to achieve.”

    Thompson puts part of the blame on private contractors who may not understand how much salt is really needed to keep a sidewalk or parking lot safe.

    “The only thing we as a society can do is use less salt,” he said.

    Claire Malcolmson, executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, wants stronger measures on salt before it’s too late.

    The LSRCA in 2015 identified “salt vulnerable areas” in the lake’s watershed, reporting most samples collected from Tannery Creek, Lovers Creek, the East Holland River, North Schomberg River, and Hotchkiss Creek exceeded the federal guideline for long-term exposure.

    Claire Malcomson of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition

    Claire Malcolmson of Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition says salt pollution continues to rise in Lake Simcoe's watershed and will harm aquatic species unless curbed. Expanding the road network — building the Bradford Bypass, for example — makes it harder to reduce salt pollution, she says.

    Claire Malcolmson photo

    The authority’s report projected, based on the watershed’s estimated population growth, that salt would affect 45 or 47 studied aquatic species by 2031, a prediction Malcolmson called “devastating.”

    Queensville contains headwaters of the Maskinonge River, which has low flows and relatively little ability to dilute salt applied to the area’s roads and parking lots, the report added.

    “The effect is already there. No one is explaining how we’re going to bend that curve,” said Malcolmson, whose group recently sparked a provincewide campaign, the Ontario Salt Pollution Coalition.

    Chloride hot spots tend to be in urban areas and along major roads. The Bradford Bypass, a proposed eight-lane highway crossing the East Holland watershed, would only worsen salt pollution, Malcolmson and other conservationists say.

    Since Highway 404 opened north of Green Lane, 84 per cent of water samples taken from the Maskinonge River have exceeded chronic salt levels, Malcolmson and Bill Foster of Forbid Roads Over Green Spaces wrote to an Environment Canada official last year.

    What will Environment Canada do to protect the West and East Holland Rivers, which flow into Lake Simcoe, from salt pollution that “will dramatically increase” once the bypass is built, they asked.

    “Either we deal with the salt problem as it is now,” Malcolmson and Foster told the official, “or we deal with this again in a decade when it is much worse.”

    Malcolmson said her group and the provincewide coalition are optimistic the provincial government will take action on salt — Environment Minister Andrea Khanjin and Attorney General Doug Downey, after all, represent Lake Simcoe Watershed ridings — which follows the advice of scientists and target reductions.

    LSRCA continues to monitor water quality and educate municipalities to make better decisions on salt.

    In this, Newmarket is one of the watershed’s biggest successes. The town uses Thawrox, a treated salt that can melt ice at a lower temperature than regular road salt.

    The town once used 110 to 140 tonnes of salt during each snow event, but introducing Thawrox in the winter of 2017-18, has dropped use to between 55 and 70 tonnes — a 50 per cent reduction, said Peter Noehammer, Newmarket’s development and infrastructure commissioner.

    The town checks and monitors salting equipment and uses electronically controlled spreader devices to ensure correct salt application, and continuously trains and educates snow operators on salt application rates and plowing procedures, Noehammer added in an emailed response to questions.

  • 11 Mar 2024 6:22 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Moncton effort to protect waterways from road salt gets encouraging results (

    A Moncton project to reduce the salt and sediment reaching waterways from a city snow dump is showing positive results, according to Ducks Unlimited Canada.

    There has been an increase of about 20 per cent in water quality since the creation of a new wetland to filter pollutants from snow melt, said Adam Campbell, the Atlantic manager of operations for the conservation group.

    "It was quite acceptable not that long ago to dump the snow right into rivers and right into the bay," Campbell said.

    But that's changing.

    "I think there is a knowledge that this can be detrimental."

    The Moncton project has been underway since 2015, when local officials were concerned that runoff from snow being trucked to the Berry Mills dumpsite from different parts of the city would flow into an adjacent brook.

    Since the snow dump is filled with snow plowed from roads, it is filled with sand, salt and other pollutants.

    For comparison, this is what the first year of flooding looked like with the snow dump.

    For comparison, this is what the first year of flooding looked like with the snow dump. (Submitted by Adam Campbell)

    So the city and Ducks Unlimited worked together to design a skinny wetland to mimic a natural one. The runoff is forced to flow all through the new wetland feature before exiting in a more filtered state into the brook.

    "It does a pretty good job of reducing a number of things, but in particular salt," Campbell said. "The amount of salt coming into the system compared to the outlet is quite reduced, as we had hoped."

    If salt enters a freshwater system, Campbell said, it can be fairly toxic to fish and other species living there. It doesn't take a lot of salt to make a freshwater system less desirable for fish that can't survive with salt.

    He said a wetland needs to have three things: water, vegetation that can grow in those conditions, and the right soils to keep the water in place.

    Once a wetland feature is established, it acts as a filter.

    But it took a few growing seasons before the new Moncton wetland was functioning properly.

    An aerial photo shows the constructed wetland when it was newly created and the snow dump pad above it.

    An aerial photo shows the constructed wetland when it was newly created and the snow dump pad above it.

    An aerial photo shows the constructed wetland when it was newly created and the snow dump pad above it. (Submitted by Adam Campbell)

    Elaine Aucoin, the general manager of sustainable growth and development for the city, said during routine testing of the water, the inlet — or start of the wetland — and the outlet — the part of the wetland that goes into the brook — are tested to see if the wetland is properly filtering out pollutants.

    The results show that along with the decrease in road salt in the outlet of the wetland, there is also a decrease in hydrocarbons, metals and other sediments in the runoff.

    While the waterway has been good for the brook, Aucoin said, it has also helped create an environment for other wildlife.

    Seen here is a Moncton naturalized stormwater pond designed to receive storm water runoff.

    Seen here is a Moncton naturalized stormwater pond designed to receive storm water runoff.

    A Moncton naturalized storm-water pond designed to receive storm-water runoff. (Submitted by Adam Campbell)

    Since the creation of the Berry Mills wetland, the city has constructed three other wetlands, or naturalized stormwater ponds, for storm-water management purposes, also with the help of Ducks Unlimited.

    Campbell said there is probably an opportunity to explore doing more wetlands in response to snow-melt runoff.

    "I think everyone's kind of headed in the right direction."

  • 01 Mar 2024 7:03 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Vortex Energy finds synergies in salt mining, hydrogen storage and ammonia cracking | CSE:VRTX, OTC:VTECF (

    Salt was one of the most valuable commodities in ancient times. In fact, the phrase "worth its salt" is thought to have originated with the ancient Romans, who valued their sodium chloride highly.

    Roman soldiers at the time received wages so they could purchase salt to preserve food such as meat and fish, in what was known as a monthly “salarium,” which has evolved into the English word “salary.”

    Today, salt has a wide range of commercial and consumer applications, from water treatment, drilling fluids and winter road maintenance to food processing, condiments and preservatives.

    Globally, the size of the salt market is projected to grow from US$34.1 billion in 2023 to $48.6 billion by 2030, according to Fortune Business Insights.

    Canadian company Vortex Energy Corp. (CSE:VRTX, OTC:VTECF) hopes to capture some of those sales through the advancement of its Robinsons River Salt Project located in Newfoundland and Labrador.

    In doing so, it would help to reduce the 7-10 million tonne per year road salt shortfall that leads Canada and the U.S. to turn to the import market to top up their supplies, according to

    "Where we are located is near one of the largest salt discoveries in eastern North America," Vortex Energy CEO Paul Sparkes tells Proactive.

    "We are also next to a large, proposed hydrogen project called World Energy, which will require storage not only for hydrogen but also for green energy."

    Sparkes, an accomplished business leader and entrepreneur, is a former director of operations under Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and has also served as a senior aide to two premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador.

    Vortex Energy boasts an experienced and distinguished management and advisory team as well, which includes famed Yukon gold prospector Shawn Ryan, and George Furey, who served as speaker of the Senate of Canada from 2015 to 2023.

    Robinsons River, which is comprised of 942 claims covering 23,500 hectares, contains two large-scale salt structures that were identified through geophysical and seismic exploration. The maximum thickness of the salt strata is estimated to be 1,700-1,800 metres in both structures.

    As salt is extracted from the ground it leaves behind caverns or domes, which are ideal locations for storing hydrogen, an increasingly popular clean fuel option.

    Salt caverns feature some significant advantages when it comes to storing hydrogen. First, the caverns allow for safe storage of large quantities of hydrogen under pressure with minimal

    environmental disturbance at the surface. As well, they enable flexibility regarding injection and withdrawal cycles.

    Vortex began drilling the Robinsons River project in November of last year, with the first occurrence of salt rock occurring at a depth of 581.5 metres at the Western Salt Structure, which has the potential to house an estimated amount of 250,000 tonnes of hydrogen in more than 25 caverns.

    The company notes that based on available geological information, the East and West Salt Structures have a conservatively estimated potential combined hydrogen storage capacity of up to 800,000 tonnes within more than 60 caverns.

    Vortex Energy says its Robinsons River salt dome project could be as much as 127% larger in terms of hydrogen storage potential than the Fischell Salt Dome owned by privately held Triple Point Resources.

    In addition, Robinsons River’s location in Newfoundland and Labrador positions the project as a potentially viable alternative for supplying the U.S. East Coast with hydrogen, due to ready port access and distance to U.S. customers.

    European markets are a distinct possibility as well, particularly in light of the agreement Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in August 2022 envisioning a hydrogen alliance between their two countries.

    Good access to power and roads underpins favourable logistics for moving product from site to port.

    Vortex also holds the licence and right to use ammonia cracking reactor technology and membrane separator technology for producing hydrogen from ammonia. According to Vortex, the technology causes the ammonia molecule to be “broken apart” in a process that creates inert nitrogen, which can be safely released into the atmosphere, and pure hydrogen, which is suitable for use as fuel.

    Sparkes notes, though, that the technology is still in the “early stages,” reasserting that the company’s main focus is the salt resource and cavern storage opportunity.

    But with a variety of end uses that include automobiles and maritime vessels, it is an important aspect of the company’s overall strategy and worth keeping an eye on as things progress. Once all R&D work is complete, plans call for building a commercial prototype facility to produce high-purity hydrogen at a customer site to validate the system’s operating performance in a commercial setting.

    Looking ahead, Vortex Energy recently raised C$1 million in flow-through funds and $1.5 million of hard dollars in an equity private placement, which the company will use to advance its Robinsons River project.

    "Our first drill hole was completed before the Christmas holidays in late 2023, in which salt was hit in the first hole," Sparkes says.

    He added that the company has begun drilling its second hole, upon completion of which core from the two drill holes will be sent to the laboratory for analysis.

    The drilling of the second hole is designed to confirm the depth of the salt rock structures at the project as well as to assess the geological properties of the salt and non-salt rocks.

    Listed only since late December of 2022, Vortex Energy has assembled an impressively diverse team and proven its ability to raise capital and move expeditiously forward with project modeling and exploratory drilling. With completion of its second hole on the horizon, 2024 is shaping up to be an important year for the company as it enters a new phase of its multi-faceted growth strategy.

  • 10 Feb 2024 3:19 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Research finds sidewalk salt is killing salmon. How can cities de-ice safely? (

    In the January cold snap, the Lower Mainland leaped into action to clear the roads using salt, sand and snow plows. As the snow melted into the gutters though, it carried the salt with it.

    It trickled into streams where Coho salmon were hatching from their eggs. The tiny salmon, or alevins, hide in the gravel near their nests (called redds), feeding off of their round orange yolk sacs.

    For young salmon, road salt runoff can be deadly. A research project is using citizen science to monitor the impacts of road salting on freshwater fish in 30 streams in the Lower Mainland.

    Provincial guidelines set allowable salt levels for salmon, but they aren’t regularly monitored or enforced.

    Although the project is only in year two of a five year study, UBC zoology professor Dr. Patricia Dr. Patricia Shulte said the results so far are concerning.

    “There's a lot of salt getting into streams when we salt the roads, and the streams very frequently exceed acute guidelines,” said Schulte, who is also a a Canada Research Chair in Responses of Fish to a Changing Environment. “Our data so far suggests that the answer is yes, that these levels are high enough to harm salmon, especially if the pulses occur at particularly sensitive stages.”

    The study is a collaboration between staff from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, UBC, SFU, BCIT and the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation. They’re taking their data to cities in the Lower Mainland to discuss how to minimize road salt use.

    Volunteers measure streams’ salt content using bluetooth conductivity loggers, which measure the concentration of electricity-conducive salt ions. The data then goes to a public website that researchers and concerned citizens can monitor.

    When Vancouver freezes in January and February, the road salt run-off coincides with Coho salmon and rainbow trout hatching.

    According to Schulte, the salt is killing fish. The next step is figuring out exactly how the salt is harming them, and why it harms some more than others.

    Fish maintain balance between water and salt concentrations through a process called osmoregulation.

    “At the time they're hatching, there's so many other demands on [their] body that [they] just don't have the energy to osmoregulate properly, and that's what's killing them,” said Schulte. “Or, that’s the hypothesis we’re testing.”

    Road salt use rising

    In Canada, the amount of road salt has been increasing by 2.5 per cent each year for the past decade.

    “The data does clearly show that the use of road salt is increasing over time, which probably has to do with more severe winter weather,” said Schulte.

    While climate change is usually associated with warmer temperatures, some scientists theorize that the warming Arctic is disrupting the polar vortex and allowing cold weather systems to escape. This could contribute to cold snaps like the West Coast saw in January. While we can generally expect warmer winters going forward, we can also expect more unusual freeze events — requiring proactive and sustainable strategies to safely de-ice streets.

    Vancouver allocates 3,000 tons of salt each winter — although the city aims to limit use, and encourages people to avoid salting their private property when possible.

    Since campus isn't part of Vancouver, UBC Facilities has their own salt stash: "160 tonnes of road salt, 80 tonnes of salt/sand combo, 80 tonnes of sand, 500 bags of de-icing salt" and more, according to UBC Director of Municipal Services Jenniffer Sheel.

    Starting at 4 a.m. on snow days, the de-icing team focuses on high-priority areas like medical clinics, childcare facilities and academic buildings to clear important sidewalks while trying to minimize salt use.

    “The cities around here already have this on their radar as something that they should be doing,” said Schulte. “It’s just a matter of the best way to do it.”

    The timing of road salt application is also important. Road salt only works when applied before the road ices over, as it lowers the freezing temperature of water.

    "We apply preventative measures based on weather conditions (precipitation, temperature and wind) and where possible reduce our salt use with brine applications or a combination of salt/sand," wrote Sheel in an email to The Ubyssey. "Our priority is public safety and we have found salt to be the most effective application when we are battling ice."

    Channels by the side of the road, called bioswales (like those on 16th Ave near campus), can also use plants and landscaping to absorb runoff before it enters the water system.

    One of Schulte’s recommendations is to salt less, and only where it's most needed.

    “It's unlikely that we’ll entirely stop using road salt because it's very important for safety, but we want to provide the data to show that we should be careful with how we use it.”

  • 09 Feb 2024 9:25 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Western researchers study winter road salt and its impact - Western News (

    The crunch of salt underfoot and the stain on your winter boots is all part of a typical Canadian winter. But what if there was a way to make it better for the Earth, the asphalt and the cars or bikes travelling over it? 

    Western researchers are studying nine varieties of winter road salt and its corrosive effects on six different types of metals. They’ll investigate how the different salts help or harm icy roads, infrastructure and the environment.  

    Yolanda Hedberg

    Yolanda Hedberg, Canada Research Chair in Corrosion Science (Håkan Lindgren photo)

    The study, jointly led by chemistry professor Yolanda Hedberg and engineering professor Chris Power, is in its second year. It has garnered attention on Western’s campus this winter, thanks to a cordoned-off area near the chemistry building on Perth Drive where samples of steel are sprayed with various salt brines once a week.  

    “Salt is not sustainable. We are basically turning our Great Lakes into oceans if we continue this way. We are completely changing the ecosystem with the use of salt,” Hedberg said. 

    The team is examining a range of different salts – from sodium chloride, the kind we use on food, to magnesium chloride to pure sodium acetate – to determine which ones perform best melting snow and ice or providing traction. At the same time, they’re measuring the effects on soil, roads and different metals used in cars, bikes and assets like bridges. 

    Metal sample road salt study

    A metal sample corroded by the salt brines being tested by Western researchers. (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications photo)

    Western researchers are working with Facilities Management and a private company testing an organic road salt in hopes it will be less damaging. 

    “It’s a big interest-generating problem because it’s so relevant, and so applied,” Hedberg said.  

    That interest is apparent among university staff and faculty. Western’s campus is carefully maintained in the winter by a team of 17 university staff and additional contractors in the worst of the season. 

    Western Facilities are partners. They gave us the salt used on campus, a lot of expertise and signage, and they help us to perform the salt spreading on Perth Drive at night. It’s quite a committed team,” Hedberg said. 


    Salt is a ‘tool in the toolbox’

    Looking for innovative ways to evolve winter maintenance strategies is always top of mind for the Facilities Management team, said landscape services manager Mike Lunau. All but a few of the staff involved have extensive training on the science of snow and ice management, beyond a typical industry level, he said. 

    Mike Lunau, manager, Landscape Services

    Mike Lunau, manager, Landscape Services (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications photo)

    “We take our role as stewards of the facilities on campus, including its natural environments, very seriously,” Lunau said. “The connected nature of campus and the impact on the Thames River ecosystem is not lost on myself or any of my team. Any opportunity we have to engage in research to support that, to optimize our use of anti-icing and de-icing products, it’s always great to take those opportunities.” 

    Western’s team uses a combination of treated and untreated salts to better target various temperature ranges over a winter. The goal is always to use the least amount of salt and employ it alongside other options to keep the campus clear and safe. 

    “We think about timing. We use salt as a tool in that toolbox, to prevent bonding of snow and ice to surfaces, so we can mechanically clear (the roads and pathways) and use less salt,” Lunau said. 

    As technologies advance, it’s also becoming more realistic and achievement to use products that have fewer effects on the environment or infrastructure. Lunau’s team is examining new options – such as using liquids, essentially salt brines with a lower chloride content – and strategies that may better protect the environment while still offering a fiscally responsible approach. 

    The tide is changing for many institutions and players, he said. 

    “The industry as a whole is aware of and conscious of the environmental impacts. There are many really advocating and pushing the boundaries of technologies and material sciences.” 


    Sustainability work extends to winter maintenance 

    The road salt study is now one of the projects under Western’s Campus as a Living Lab initiative, which merges academics and the university’s commitment to sustainability by bringing together faculty, staff and students to do research right on campus.  

    A new internal grant, the Western Sustainable Impact Fund, also provided funding for the road salt research.  

    Robert Addai, a PhD candidate in chemistry supervised by Hedberg, said the research is about comparing today’s costs – both financial and environmental – to those over the long term. 

    “We know Canada uses a lot of sodium chloride because it is cheap. We don’t take into consideration the side effects, the future costs, we only think about now. This is why we want to analyze sodium chloride compared to other salts, to see which one will benefit us today and tomorrow,” Addai said. 

    Balancing effectiveness, impact and cost is the goal, both for researchers and those tossing the salt.  

    For Addai, it’s simply part of the scientific equation. 

    “Like we say, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For us, we are trying to keep the snow away from the road. But the salt can also corrode metal, it melts into the waterbodies. As scientists, we always do a risk assessment. With every product, we consider, ‘How much is this helping and how much is this harming the society?’” – Robert Addai, PhD candidate in chemistry

    This study is very important because at the end of the day we want to find a type of salt that is beneficial for pedestrians and cars, and also helps melt the snow. We must consider the environmental impact on grasses, plants and animals as we are checking the cost.” 

    Hedberg, who is also an engineer, lived in Sweden for more than a decade, where she worked part-time as a politician in a suburb of Stockholm. She provided scientific knowledge to the technical committee responsible for winter maintenance and bike lanes, saying it was rewarding to “contribute to democracy and the community.” 

    There, she saw other ideas for snow clearing, such as the Swedish approach of clearing sidewalks, cycling and bus lanes first, before roads. In her home country of Germany, property owners are prohibited from putting salt on their own stairs, with stiff penalties and fines for those flouting the rules, thanks to the potential for structural damage. 

    “It’s quite fascinating to see how other countries address this,” Hedberg said. 

    The current project wraps up this year, but there is interest in partnering next with a municipality, applying the research findings across an entire community.  

    “We hope our results can convince municipalities this can be done (using alternative salts),” Hedberg said. 

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