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

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. 

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