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

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/road-salt-toronto-wwf-1.5388753

    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)

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/salt-use-waterloo-region-1.5381157

    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)

    https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/slip-and-fall-accidents-leave-snow-plow-operators-out-in-the-cold-1.4704062

    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.


  • 04 Dec 2019 7:56 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.utoronto.ca/news/road-salt-taking-its-toll-insects-toronto-area-u-t-researchers-find

    It may help keep your car on the road in the winter, but research from the University of Toronto suggests that road salt is creating problems for wildlife.

    Researchers from the lab of Shannon McCauley, an associate professor of biology at U of T Mississauga, investigated the impact of road salt exposure on larvae of Anax junius dragonflies. The results, published in the journal Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution, show that long-term exposure to high levels of salinity suppress the immune response of aquatic insects, negatively impacting their ability to fight infections and recover from injuries.

    Known as “green darners,” Anax junius dragonflies are one of the most common and abundant species in North America. Long and thin, they can grow to a length of 76 mm and are fierce and voracious predators. 

    “They eat everything, including each other, other dragonflies, mosquitos and zooplankton,” says Rosalind Murray, a post-doctoral researcher in the McCauley Lab who co-authored the study with McCauley and undergraduate biology student Racquelle Mangahas. “In a fishless pond, Anax junius are top predators that shape the aquatic ecosystem.

    “We don’t know much about how macro invertebrates – larger insects – respond to salinity, and no one has ever looked at this particular species.” 

    Murray notes that 2017 was a boom year for the insects, which were collected at U of T’s Koffler Scientific Reserve north of Toronto for the study. “It was a good opportunity to ask questions about what is happening to these top predators,” she says.

    Salt enters aquatic environments in a number of ways. In colder climates, salt is spread liberally for traction on icy roads, parking lots and walking paths, where it can be washed into ponds, rivers and streams when the snow melts. In warmer locales, salt also enters the watershed through road gravel, agricultural applications and runoff from saltwater residential pools.

    Previous research measured how much road salt might be lethal to aquatic populations, but Murray notes that many creatures may experience non-lethal salinity levels over different periods of time.

    “Stagnant ponds might contain little pockets with higher salinity, and insects can move in and out of them so they may experience quick acute exposure,” she says. “They may not be experiencing salinity at a rate that is sustained enough to kill them. We wondered how salinity might be affecting animals in a non-lethal way.”

    The researchers theorized that salinity might have an effect on the insects’ immune systems. To observe the potential effects of road salt on larval immune response, the researchers turned to melanin, a chemical that plays a role in wound healing. “When an insect has a wound, it sends melanin to encapsulate the foreign object or wound,” Murray says.

    Dragonfly larvae were injected with a monofilament to mimic injury that might be caused by a parasite or other wound. The larvae were then placed into water with various levels of commercial road salt ranging from standard tap water with no salt added to solutions of one and three grams of salt per litre. The larvae were left in the solutions for periods ranging from one to 96 hours (four days), after which the researchers measured the amount of melanin deposited on the monofilaments.

    “We found that the highest level salt treatment in longest-term exposure resulted in a significantly decreased immune response,” Murray says.

    “Dragonflies are pretty robust, but at the longest period of the highest concentration, we saw that they are being affected by high concentrations of salt,” she says. “Our study exposed the insects for just four days, but animals may live for years in the same pond. A chronically salty environment, it could – and likely would – have a much stronger effect.”

    Chronic exposure to salination could have other long-term implications for the insects and also for other creatures on the food chain. Additional research from the McCauley Lab indicates that exposure to road salt appears to negatively impact the appetite of adult dragonflies. “Our research shows a decrease in the number of mosquitos that they are eating, which could impact how many mosquitos are in our environment.”

    “It’s a global problem that’s not specific to cold climates,” Murray says. “It is important to be aware of how much salt we are adding to the environment, and that it is having an effect.”

    The research was supported the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.




  • 27 Nov 2019 4:25 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/canada/judge-finds-homeowners-cant-be-found-liable-for-accidents-on-poorly-cleared-sidewalks/ar-BBXoRdV?ocid=spartanntp

    When Darwin Der fell on a Burnaby, B.C. sidewalk in December 2017, he broke more than the carton of eggs he was carrying in his hand.

    A combination of snow, rain, shovelling, salt, unfreezing and refreezing had turned the angled pavement cut into the curb for wheelchair access into a literal slippery slope.

    But Der has faced a proverbial uphill battle trying to hold anyone responsible.

    The latest blow came this week when a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled that a pair of homeowners couldn't be found liable for attempts at clearing away snow that may have inadvertently made the sidewalk slipperier.

    Justice Heather MacNaughton's ruling provides a window into the law around snow removal and the rights and responsibilities of citizens when it comes to clearing the sidewalks in front of their properties as the mercury dips.

    Long story short: even if you fail to comply with a municipal bylaw requiring you to shovel and salt, you can't be found liable if someone slips because you failed to do so.

    I immediately fell hard onto my back and neck

    Der and his wife were walking home from a grocery store with a dozen eggs on Dec. 21, 2017 when the 76-year-old slipped on the corner of the sidewalk outside of a home belonging to Ang Zhao and Quanqiu Huang.

    "As I stepped onto the sloped sidewalk just ahead of my wife, my feet slid out from underneath me and I immediately fell hard onto my back and neck," he wrote in an affidavit filed with the court.

    "There is a gap in my memory after the fall, but when I regained some level of awareness, I could feel pain in my shoulder, neck and back, and I could not move."

    The retiree has since required surgery to fuse his spine and suffers from some degree of paralysis.

    Bylaw breach does not equal civil liability

    Der initially sued Zhao, Huang and the City of Burnaby but later discontinued his action against the city.

    He was also forced to acknowledge precedent that says that a breach of the city's bylaw requiring "an owner or occupier of property abutting a municipal sidewalk to clear it of ice and snow by 10 a.m. every day" does not create civil liability against the property owner when it comes to users of the sidewalk.

    A 2000 ruling in Ontario's Court of Appeal noted that municipal governments across the country "enlist their own residents in the snow-clearing enterprise" and that accidents take place just as regularly.

    But those judges found that "the snow and ice accumulating on public sidewalks are the legal responsibility of the municipality" unless an owner assumes responsibility for the space or if poor conditions on their land flow onto the sidewalk, making the public property hazardous.

    That left Der trying to claim that Zhao and Huang had "created a hazardous slippery sidewalk that was not visible to a reasonable pedestrian" when they tried to clear the sidewalk prior to the accident.

    'Imperative' to follow clearing with de-icing

    Zhao and Huang moved into the home in front of the sidewalk on the day Der fell.

    Zhao said he had shoveled the sidewalk in previous days in order to comply with the city's bylaws. And Huang claimed she salted the sidewalk in the morning to make it safer for the movers.

    But according to a report filed by accident reconstruction expert Tim Leggett, the classic Lower Mainland cycle of freezing and thawing likely left the bare sidewalk vulnerable to the kind of melting that later leads to black ice.

    In fact, he said, that had the sidewalk not been shoveled, the snow might have provided some traction.

    "It is imperative when performing any winter road maintenance activities to perform it thoroughly," wrote Leggett, an expert in winter road maintenance, friction and slippery slopes.

    "In other words, if an effort is undertaken to remove the snow then it follows that an additional effort should be made to apply a de-icing chemical to remove any excess material left behind."

    Policy nightmare?

    The judge noted that Der wasn't claiming the couple's snow clearing attempts alone had created a "direct" hazard — rather that they should have foreseen that the weather might later turn their bare sidewalk into a skating rink.

    MacNaughton said Der had failed to meet the burden of proof for that argument and finding otherwise could have huge policy consequences.

    If "property owners who do not clear sidewalks abutting their properties have no legal responsibility for potential resulting danger on those sidewalks, but those who comply with municipal snow removal bylaws expose themselves to liability, the result would be that property owners would have an incentive not to make any efforts to comply with snow removal bylaws," the judge wrote.

    "The potential loss of the assistance of private property owners in snow removal efforts out of fear of the potential legal ramifications would be likely to cause more danger than it would prevent."



  • 26 Nov 2019 6:43 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.rivertowns.net/sports/outdoors/4779797-Angie-Hong-column-As-snow-approaches-ways-to-reduce-salt-use-and-help-the-environment

    When the City of Carthage fell at the end of the Third Punic War, 146 BC, victorious Romans pulled Phoenecian ships out of the harbor and set them on fire before moving through the city, house to house, rounding up and selling 50,000 people into slavery. Then they set the city on fire. As a final insult before they left, it is said that the Roman soldiers sprinkled salt upon the ground to ensure that nothing could ever grow there again.

    During the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain and Portugal punished traitors within their empires by executing them and then pouring salt on their land. Closer to home, some say that Union soldiers salted the fields in Georgia during Gen. William Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea (though it’s not likely they used very much, since salt was a hot commodity during the American Civil War).

    Throughout history, pouring salt on the land has symbolized a curse not only for current inhabitants, but also for future generations. Then, during the winter of 1941-42, New Hampshire became the first state in the U.S. to apply salt to roads to help melt snow and ice more quickly. The U.S. used a total of 5,000 pounds of road salt that year. After World War II, road salt became more common. One million tons of salt were used in 1955, and 10 million in 1972. By 2017, local, state and federal highway departments were applying 19.8 million tons of salt every year to roads across the nation.

    Whose future do we seek to curse?

    Though the Roman and Union soldiers’ salting of the earth may have been mostly symbolic, our modern communities face the very real risk of suffering unintended consequences from using road salt, year after year. There is currently no practical technology for removing salt from our surface and groundwater resources and soil once it is there, so the only solution is to use less salt and hope that it doesn’t build up too quickly.

    In Minnesota, 50 lakes and streams have already been contaminated by too much salt and another 120 are near the threshold for impairment. Recent research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that chloride concentrations are increasing in roughly one-third of all lakes in the northern U.S and Canada. Even the groundwater we drink is at risk. Almost 30% of shallow wells in the Twin Cities metro area have been found to have chloride concentrations above the recommended level for drinking water.

    We all value our safety when driving in winter weather, but clean water and healthy soils are vital to our long-term survival as well. Here are five suggestions from local experts on how each of us can help:

    1. Drive slower and wear appropriate shoes when it’s snowy and icy outside. This helps to support road maintenance crews, as well as large parking lot owners, in their efforts to reduce salt use.

    2. Use less salt on your own driveway and sidewalk. One pound of salt (one heaping coffee mug) is enough to clear a 20-fo

      1. ot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (250 square feet). Always shovel before using salt.

      2. Skip the salt when it is colder than 15 degrees. Salt works by lowering the melting temperature of ice so that it melts when the temperature is below freezing (32 degrees). However, traditional road salt (sodium chloride) doesn’t work when it’s colder than 15 degrees, so it is a waste of time and money to put down salt on very cold days. Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride work at colder temperatures (minus-10 degrees and minus-20 degrees, respectively) but can be more expensive.

      3. Sweep up and reuse leftover salt after the ice melts.

      4. Stop using your water softener if your water hardness is less than 120 milligrams per liter CaCO3. If you do need a water softener, switch from a timer-based to a demand-based system and install a bypass for your outside spigot so that you aren’t softening water for irrigation.

      Learn more about chloride and its impact on Minnesota water at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/chloride-salts.


  • 19 Nov 2019 3:29 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/salt-snow-ice-winter-1.5364063

    The great salt shortage of 2018-2019 is behind us, but the days of cheap rock salt are probably over.

    Municipalities are preparing for the worst, including the Region of Waterloo which has budgeted half a million dollars more just for salt in its next fiscal plan.

    "Wholesale salt? Picked up in Goderich, we used to pay $55 a tonne, $70 a tonne delivered pre-season delivered, $80 delivered once the season has come into play," said Jon Agg, who owns Pristine Property Management.

    Now, he says the cheapest he's been able to find salt is $111 a tonne — and as expensive as $165.

    Agg said the increase is simple economics; when last year's salt shortage pushed up prices and demand held steady it proved the market handle the increase.

    "It's what the market will bear."

    Goderich is home to the world's largest underground salt mine, on the shores of Lake Huron. A workers' strike in mid-2018 affected the salt supply that year — forcing some contractors to get creative and import salt from as far away as Egypt. 

    Others, like Reliable Care Premium Landscapes in Scarborough, saw the writing on the wall and decided it was time for a change.

    Brine: less salt, more environmentally-friendly

    "We've converted all our trucks to use liquid brine. We're no longer putting rock salt down," said general manager Leo Varlese.

    His company spent $250,000 to convert their salt trucks to spray the brine — a technique used by some municipalities and the Ministry of Transportation on the 400-series highways.

    The brine is salty water, mixed in a reservoir that "looks like a big hot tub," said Varlese. It uses a lot less salt and is better for the environment.

    "We used 50 per cent less salt right off the bat," said Varlese, "Our big push as a company is that we truly believe in making the outside a place you want to be. It's all about the environment; that was our big push to do this, a huge investment. We could have bought a lot of salt with a quarter of a million dollars."

    This will be just the second season for Reliable Care's brine experiment, but already Varlese says he's seeing a real difference.

    "We don't kill the grass now anymore [on our condo properties], we don't kill the bushes. Whereas a lot of our work in the springtime was repairing grass and repairing vegetation.

    "We don't have to do that anymore."


  • 19 Nov 2019 6:58 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.ourwindsor.ca/opinion-story/9707353-why-canadians-opt-for-the-same-grim-black-coat-every-winter/

    Have you bought The Winter Coat yet? Make haste. Do you really think that the global heating that last week dumped a sheet cake of wet snow onto cities where serious leaf raking has yet to begin means that you can postpone the most important yearly ritual of Canadian life?

    If you look at your serious winter coat and think “She’ll see me through another one,” you’re postponing the inevitable. You are relying on the mechanism behind the news photo of people lining up on Bloor Street for the unveiling of Eataly, basically a dressed-up food court at Bay and Bloor to whom I wish the best of luck.

    Male and female, they were wearing the drab uniform of a Canadian winter: black pants, black coats and a grim expression.

    In our black Canada Goose parkas and endless puffy jackets, we look like Maoists, a police lineup, street-wandering Raskolnikovs pondering our recent murder. We look like Soviet-era Russians lining up for bath plugs and rotting beetroot. On the subway we are androgynous and indistinguishable.

    These are statement coats, the statement being “I give up.” There are reasons: road salt stains, black being so washable, black still chic though in circumstances other than this (parties, not parkas), doesn’t show the dirt, and nothing in the stores except you-can’t-go-wrong-with black.

    I have a serious black Winter Coat, an oversized neck-to-ankles monolith in the kind of wool that the maker Piacenza says is combed with special thistles, very possibly in an Italian hilltop village where the church bells ring with every bolt sent to market. “These are fabrics where the architecture of their structure reigns supreme, of standing out for their extreme light weight and of answering the calls of modernity,” or so the Piacenza people say.

    It’s so thick and heavy that I could send it over empty to line up at Eataly for me.

    I bought it back when I was flush. It is battered now, as are we all, and has at best one more year. But that’s what every Canadian says in November, faced with shopping for a new coat, which is easily as bad as buying a bathing suit.


  • 19 Nov 2019 6:56 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/region-of-waterloo-to-pay-500k-more-for-winter-road-salt-in-next-budget-1.5361527

    Draft budget sees an increase of $1.3 million in a total winter road maintenance spending

    The Region of Waterloo is expecting to pay $500,000 more for road salt next year.

    The region's draft budget shows an increase in spending for road salt, part of a $1.3 million overall increase to the winter road maintenance budget.

    The proposed increase includes several winter maintenance items such as the cost of maintaining the separated cycling lane pilot network, the removal and disposal of built up snow that exceeds on-road storage and the cost of salt.

    "We have seen an increase in the prices of salt [which is] somewhat substantial," said Emil Marion, the Manager of Transportation Operation for the Region of Waterloo. "The amounts have gone up based on the increased infrastructure [and] change in weather patterns requiring more salt unfortunately. "

    The Region of Waterloo will be holding a number of public and online budget input sessions prior to the draft budget's approval. The first is set for Nov. 26. 


  • 18 Nov 2019 6:57 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    https://www.hometownsource.com/forest_lake_times/salting-the-earth/article_4e932bb6-073f-11ea-86d2-f379d8ee22e3.html

    When the City of Carthage fell at the end of the Third Punic War, 146 BC, victorious Romans pulled Phoenician ships out of the harbor and set them on fire before moving through the city, house to house, rounding up and selling 50,000 people into slavery. Then they set the city on fire. As a final insult before they left, it is said that the Roman soldiers sprinkled salt upon the ground to ensure that nothing could ever grow there again.

    During the 17th and 18th centuries, Spain and Portugal punished traitors within their empires by executing them and then pouring salt on their land. Closer to home, some say that Union soldiers salted the fields in Georgia during General Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea (though it’s not likely they used very much, since salt was a hot commodity during the American Civil War).

    Throughout history, pouring salt on the land has symbolized a curse not only for current inhabitants, but also for future generations. Then, during the winter of 1941-42, New Hampshire became the first state in the U.S. to apply salt to roads to help melt snow and ice more quickly. The U.S. used a total of 5,000 pounds of road salt that year. After World War II, road salt became more common. One million tons of salt were used in 1955, and 10 million in 1972. By 2017, local, state and federal highway departments were applying 19.8 million tons of salt every year to roads across the nation. 

    Whose future do we seek to curse?

    Though the Roman and Union soldiers’ salting of the earth may have been mostly symbolic, our modern communities face the very real risk of suffering unintended consequences from using road salt, year after year. There is currently no practical technology for removing salt from our surface and groundwater resources and soil once it is there, so the only solution is to use less salt and hope that it doesn’t build up too quickly.

    In Minnesota, 50 lakes and streams have already been contaminated by too much salt and another 120 are near the threshold for impairment. Recent research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that chloride concentrations are increasing in roughly one-third of all lakes in the northern U.S. and Canada. Even the groundwater we drink is at risk. Almost 30% of shallow wells in the Twin Cities metro area have been found to have chloride concentrations above the recommended level for drinking water.

    We all value our safety when driving in winter weather, but clean water and healthy soils are vital to our long-term survival as well. Here are five suggestions from local experts on how each of us can help:

    1. Drive slower and wear appropriate shoes when it’s snowy and icy outside. This helps to support road maintenance crews, as well as large parking lot owners, in their efforts to reduce salt use.

    2. Use less salt on your own driveway and sidewalk. One pound of salt (one heaping coffee mug) is enough to clear a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (250 sq. ft.). Always shovel before using salt.

    3. Skip the salt when it is colder than 15 degrees. Salt works by lowering the melting temperature of ice so that it melts when the temperature is below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). However, traditional road salt (sodium chloride) doesn’t work when it’s colder than 15 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is a waste of time and money to put down salt on very cold days. Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride work at colder temperatures (-10 and -20 degrees, respectively) but can be more expensive.

    4. Sweep up and reuse left-over salt after the ice melts.

    5. Stop using your water softener if your water hardness is less than 120 mg/L CaCO3. If you do need a water softener, switch from a timer-based to a demand-based system and install a bypass for your outside spigot so that you aren’t softening water for irrigation.

    Learn more about the impacts of chlorides on local lakes and streams at a free presentation: “A salty tale for Minnesota lakes and streams,” Monday, Dec. 2, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hardwood Creek Library. 

    Information about chlorides is also available at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/chloride-salts

    Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220 x.35 or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.


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