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  • 28 Jul 2020 9:49 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    First written by now retired Smart About Salt Council (SASC) Executive Director Mr. Bob Hodgins in 2012.


    As I was out walking my dog and pondering the topic for this month’s article, I came upon a thick layer of salt spread around a city bus stop that made me realize it might be time for an article on application rates.

    This is always a gritty topic, since there is no accepted standard or even agreement on the quantity of salt to put down on parking lots and sidewalks. Fortunately, there is an ongoing study at the University of Waterloo that hopefully will answer this question with some solid science. In the meantime, there is a lot of experimentation going on.

    In Ontario, there is considerable concern about the effect excessive salt use is having on our drinking water. It was this concern in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo that led to the development of the Smart about Salt program. As well, since the Walkerton disaster, the Ministry of the Environment and conservation authorities have been working on provincial plans to protect drinking water supplies.

    Rock salt has been identified as one of the threats to water supplies that needs to be addressed. Eventually every ounce of salt we put down ends up in our water. So, while we need to use salt to maintain winter safety, it is also important that we are responsible and use only the right amount to achieve safe conditions.

    In our training, we encourage snowfighters to have three different application rates: a light rate for frost and light snow falls, a medium rate for normal snowfalls and a heavy rate for heavy snowfalls and colder temperatures. But what are the correct rates?

    Snow and ice control contractors who are certified under the Smart about Salt program, report annually on their salt use. Last year the average application rate that was reported was 53 grams/square metre, which is 11 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or 490 pounds an acre. Everyone likes to use different units of measure. The highest reported rate was over twice this average, with the lowest less than half this average rate. The Region of Niagara has stipulated rates that are the same as its road application rate for parking lots and sidewalks, claiming to have eliminated the incidence of slip/falls at the targeted locations.

    My article entitled, ‘Rock salt doesn’t melt anything’ (December 2011) talks about the benefits of liquids. When using liquid de-icers, the amount of salt used is significantly less with enhanced safety under the right conditions.

    We have a responsibility to maintain safe conditions during the winter, but we also have a responsibility to protect our water supplies for now and into the future. There are many contractors who have been diligent about their salt use and reduced their rates by using pre-treated salt, liquid de-icers, or simply dialling back the spreaders. Clearly the people maintaining the city bus stops could learn much from these responsible snowfighters.

  • 20 Jul 2020 11:05 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)


    Abstract Image

    Widespread use of NaCl for road deicing has caused increased chloride concentrations in lakes near urban centers and areas of high road density. Chloride can be toxic, and water quality guidelines have been created to regulate it and protect aquatic life. However, these guidelines may not adequately protect organisms in low-nutrient, soft water lakes such as those underlain by the Precambrian Shield. We tested this hypothesis by conducting laboratory experiments on six Daphnia species using a soft water culture medium. We also examined temporal changes in cladoceran assemblages in the sediments of two small lakes on the Canadian Shield: one near a highway and the other >3 km from roads where salt is applied in the winter. Our results showed that Daphnia were sensitive to low chloride concentrations with decreased reproduction and increased mortality occurring between 5 and 40 mg Cl–/L. Analysis of cladoceran remains in lake sediments revealed changes in assemblage composition that coincided with the initial application of road salt in this region. In contrast, there were no changes detected in the remote lake. We found that 22.7% of recreational lakes in Ontario have chloride concentrations between 5 and 40 mg/L suggesting that cladoceran zooplankton in these lakes may already be experiencing negative effects of chloride.

  • 17 Jul 2020 10:47 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    After a long winter we have finally made it to another hot and hazy summer.  Although this year we have faced many unprecedented challenges both personally and professionally the Smart About Salt Council (SASC) are excited to return to a “new normal”.  SASC wants to reassure all of our stakeholders that we are continuing to work behind the scenes to advocate for smarter winter maintenance practices which benefit winter maintenance contractors, facility owners/operators and the general public. 

    Our “New” Normal

    ·        Due to the challenges with COVID-19, Smart About Salt Council SASC) has made one (1) training module available at no-charge for 2 week periods.  The modules are being updated every two (2) weeks to provide new content.

    ·        We currently have in-class training scheduled for September 1oth, 2020. The potential for this in-person professional development (PD) event be re-evaluated for safety concerns closer to the date and depending on the number of applicants but could also be delivered online as a webinar.

    Please go to the website for additional information regarding certification and training.

    Stay Safe Everyone!

  • 28 Apr 2020 11:40 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    As a result of Covid 19, these are difficult times for each and all of us. As stakeholders in winter maintenance ourselves we understand the challenges you’re experiencing. The Smart About Salt Council (SASC) is here to assist you as best we can. The volunteer Board of Directors of SASC has agreed that starting Friday, May 1, 2020 twice a month until the end of the pandemic shutdown, one (1) of the modules that comprise the “Essentials of Salt Management” award-winning training course will be offered free-of-charge.

    The training offered by SASC is geared to people working in the snow and ice control business. Contractor managers, supervisors and operators will benefit from the course. Facility managers that control winter operations and hire and direct snow and ice contractors should be trained to best understand the business of snow and ice control. Risk managers will learn about winter related risks and how these can be managed as well as the challenge contractors face because of poor site design.

    The SASC training for winter maintenance professionals, owners/operators and others can:

    ü  Help win contracts

    ü  Help to reduce the costs of winter maintenance

    ü  Help to provide a defense against legal claims

    ü  Help to differentiate good contractors from others

    ü  Help reduce the impacts of salt on infrastructure

    ü  Help improve client and customer relations

    ü  Support the environment and drinking water resources 

    Successful completion of the SASC training and associated exam are fundamentals required for Smart About Salt Council certification.

    To learn and to register please go to

  • 02 Apr 2020 10:18 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    It’s 4 a.m. The sky is still speckled with stars and ice is glinting in the streetlights from the freezing rain. 

    You can hear the hiss and groans of large trucks shooting out bullets of road salt, a sound that, to you, means a safe drive into work. But for the species living in nearby waterways, it is the sound of an assault on their habitat by another round of poisonous pellets that kill their young and threatens the ecosystems upon which they depend.  

    Since the 1950s, Canada has used road salt as a cheap and effective way to break up ice and keep citizens safe during the winter. More than seven million tonnes of road salt are spread each winter, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

    Some waterways in Southern Ontario have now eight times the recommended level of salt, surpassing more than 1,000 milligrams of salt per litre, the WWF found in a 2019 report

    Now the Ottawa Riverkeeper is raising the alarm about the impact of road salt on waterways in the National Capital Region.

    Startling new findings from a pilot testing by the non-profit organization found waterways with more than 800 milligrams of salt per litre – seven times the healthy level. One creek showed sky-high readings of 3,500 milligrams per litre in mid-February, according to data released March 16.

    Monitoring the waterways

    These tests are part of a monitoring program that started in mid-January. It consists of weekly tests on local waterways to determine salt concentrations during the winter months. The Ottawa Riverkeeper is monitoring Pinecrest Creek, Graham Creek and Gatineau’s Moore Creek, as they all feed into the Ottawa River. 

    Aquatic organisms can survive in freshwater if salt levels are kept below a constant threshold of 120 milligrams per litre, the Riverkeeper’s first report noted on March 7. However, the newest data shows that all the creeks being monitored surpassed this threshold this winter, some by an alarming amount.

    Pinecrest Creek, for example, consistently contained salt levels of about 800 milligrams or higher, spiking to 3,500 milligrams per litre in mid-February, and salt levels in Graham Creek exceeded 1,500 milligrams per litre twice this winter, the data shows.

    “I was just surprised. I thought, ‘What more can we do? How can we get this message through to people?’” Elizabeth Logue said. The Riverkeeper added that there are plans to expand the program to gather data from more local creeks. 

    Every winter, 190,000 tonnes of road salt is used by the City of Ottawa, the city’s operational research and projects manager, Kevin Monette, said in an email. These amounts do not include the road salt dispersed by private contractors or individual property owners. The city hasn’t updated its salt management plan since 2005, although it conducted a general study of surface water quality in 2017.

    Though the City of Ottawa says it is committed to testing waterways on a monthly basis, the testing is only done “in non-ice conditions,” because of safety concerns, Ryan Polkinghorne, the city’s environmental monitoring manager, told CBC on Feb. 1. The Riverkeeper launched its new monitoring program partly to ensure that data is collected throughout the winter, when road salt is most heavily used. 

    As road salt — in the form of sodium chloride, calcium chloride or magnesium chloride — makes its way to nearby waterways, Logue said it threatens ecosystems and wildlife. Excessive amounts of chloride degrades habitat quality, along with increasing egg mortalities and decreasing the biodiversity that keeps our freshwaters healthy. 

    “Especially with amphibians that breathe through their skin, they are getting this chloride directly into their system,” she said, explaining that salt tends to draw moisture out of their skin and dehydrate them. “The levels are high enough to affect their health and whether they are able to survive into the summer.” 

    A 2016 study by researchers at Yale University and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute also found that excess salt concentrations can increase the number of male frogs, while decreasing the number of females by 10 per cent, affecting the number of offspring and future populations. This likely happens because sodium binds to cells and mimics testosterone, the study explained. As a result, not only are there fewer females, but salt also lowers the number of eggs that females can produce. 

    Species suffer

    And it’s not just frogs that are affected. Many other species with low salt tolerances are unable to procreate or have a higher rate of egg mortality, Logue explained. For example, high concentrations of salt affect the appetite of dragonflies, which then makes mosquitoes more plentiful in the summer, she said.

    In Ottawa specifically, the hickory nut mussel, which was added to Ontario’s species-at-risk list in August 2019, may face even more challenges with increasing salt levels. Historically abundant in the Ottawa River, these mussels play an important role in filtering our waterways, Logue said. 

    Chloride levels hurt even the tiniest specimens, according to Robin Valleau, a PhD candidate in biology at Queen’s University. Her work is focused on the Muskoka region, where she is studying how salt levels affect zooplankton in freshwater systems—important species at the bottom of the food web. 

    “(Zooplankton) filter the algae out of the water, which makes our lakes clear and esthetically pleasing, and they are also a main source of food for some fish,” she explained. 

    Increased salt levels in the water have introduced more salt-tolerant zooplankton, which can be harmful for fish that are used to eating other kinds of zooplankton. This has led to a decline in the number of fish in lakes with higher salt concentrations, she said.

    These studies provide valuable information about the risks of road salt to larger waterway systems, such as the Great Lakes, she added.

    “We have these early warning signs in our shallower systems that are more sensitive to changes, and a lot of our big, productive lakes like the Great Lakes haven’t reached chloride levels that are of concern,” she said. “We’re catching it early enough that we could do something. And really, the biggest solution is using less salt.” 

    Humans should also be concerned about the increase in salt concentrations in local waterways because it pollutes drinking water and damages the beloved freshwater systems so integral to Canadian identity, experts say.

    “Some people don’t realize that our drinking water does come from the Ottawa River,” Logue said, noting that once salt is in the water, it is hard to extract it. “Salt doesn’t just disappear into thin air … I guess people don’t see that full-circle effect.” 

    Although road salt isn’t an acute threat to ecosystems on the level of climate change and habitat loss, Nick Lapointe, a senior conservation biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said the steady accumulation of salt over time is concerning. He agreed there is no easy way to take salt out of freshwater.

    Not sustainable

    “The way we use road salt is just not sustainable. It’s not something that future generations are going to be able to deal with,” he said. “We’re currently on pace within the next couple of decades — 50 to 100 years — to have this become a big problem in our urbanized watersheds.”

    In 2017, city staff prepared a Surface Water Quality Report for council’s climate protection committee. This report found that, although overall water quality had improved between 2000 and 2014, with a decrease in levels of substances such as copper and phosphorous, chloride levels had risen in local waterways.

     “Although chloride may be naturally occurring, there is evidence to suggest the source of the city-wide upward trend for chlorides is an increasing release from road-grade salt from both public roads and private commercial properties,” the report stated, although it did not explain the reason for this increase.

    Ottawa has been trying to manage its use of salt for years. In 2005, the city developed a detailed salt management plan outlining practices the city could take to reduce the use of road salt. 

    For example, lightly spreading “liquid de-icers” such as sodium chloride brine over road salt effectively accelerates the ice-melting process by “pre-wetting” the salt. In turn, this reduces the amount of salt needed, the plan stated.  

    Acknowledging this plan, Logue said it’s good the city trains the staff on salt management practices, but “given that we still see high levels in creeks, it makes us wonder if this is enough.” 

    For more than a decade, the city has continued to invest heavily in liquid de-icers, along with computer controllers in all salt spreaders to accurately control the amount of salt used, Monette said in an email. The city also often uses sand on lower-priority roads, according to Coun. Scott Moffatt, who is also the chairman of the standing committee on environmental protection, water and waste management.

    However, the province requires cities to meet minimum road-maintenance standards, which can influence the amount of road salt dispersed. These standards include having bare pavement on main roads such as Carling Avenue and Baseline Road. Keeping sidewalks ice-free also increases public safety and ensures the city doesn’t face lawsuits.

    “If we don’t maintain these things and we don’t manage the ice, then we’re liable in case there’s accidents or in case someone falls,” Moffatt said. “That comes back onto the city.” 

    Best practices

    When asked whether the city has succeeded in reducing salt use since the report was published, Monette said in an email that the city has been following best practices to maintain its salt usage to the “minimum required to achieve public safety.”

    Ottawa has also looked into using alternatives to road salt. In 2011, the city tried to use a beet juice solution, but it was deemed ineffective, according to Monette. No significant benefit was observed compared to the liquid de-icers the city was already using, and there were issues with foul odours and staining, he explained. 

    Though alternatives such as beet juice have been introduced in various cities, including Winnipeg, Chicago and, most recently, Cornwall, Valleau said she doesn’t think they are the best solution, as they may have negative consequences that haven’t yet been identified.

    “Not a lot of research has been done on these alternatives because they are so new,” she said, adding that using less salt is always best. “I would caution people when using new products because we don’t know how they will affect lakes.” 

    Another way Ottawa has addressed concerns about rising salt levels is having participated in Smart About Salt’s training program, the 2017 Surface Water Quality Report said. 

    The organization aims to train contractors and municipalities across Canada to improve their road salt practices, giving them a certificate in the process. Applying best practices, such as using liquid de-icers, can “reduce the use of salt by as much as 70 per cent, while maintaining safety and saving money,” according to executive director Lee Gould.

    Though the city was involved in the program in 2011, Monette said Ottawa is not currently participating, but did not explain why in his email statement. 

    Meanwhile, homeowners and entrepreneurs can do their bit, Logue said. An example of a best practice for homeowners, according to Logue, includes reducing the amount of road salt used on sidewalks and driveways. 

    “I’ve seen it where there is more salt than snow in some areas,” she explained. “For a driveway, you don’t need several shovel-fulls. You just need a coffee cup-full—that’s what we’ve been trying to educate people about.” 

    Limit usage

    Elizabeth Hendriks, the vice-president of freshwater for World Wildlife Fund Canada, recommends using one pill bottle’s worth of salt per square metre.

    Though road salt trucks disperse most of the salt that washes into our waterways, she said most people would cut back on their own use of salt on sidewalks and driveways if they knew about its impact on the environment.

    “It is an actionable issue,” Hendriks said. “Sometimes we have these environmental issues that people think are too overwhelming, but saying, ‘Let’s reduce our salt and it will have a positive impact on our freshwater ecosystems,’ interests people.”

    Canada has the highest number of lakes in the world – a fact that gives people an extra incentive to protect them and ensure our freshwater ecosystems can continue to thrive, she added.

    “Canadians really care about our freshwater. It is part of our identity and when we become aware of the impacts we are having, people do care and want to change.” 

  • 21 Feb 2020 2:12 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    MARKHAM, Ontario, February 21, 2020 – BGIS is a leading global real estate management services company focused on sustainability and innovation. Through its collaborative approach to sustainability and innovation, and prompted by a ‘safety first’ paradigm, BGIS is proud to announce its coast-to-coast partnership with the unique not-for-profit Smart About Salt Council (SASC), that will strive for improved winter maintenance services grounded in best management practices.

    The Smart About Salt Council (SASC) offers BGIS and other stakeholders a win-win solution to the challenges surrounding winter maintenance, that will ensure effective facility management while benefiting the environment. In an industry-first initiative, BGIS will work with SASC to ensure that all facilities supported by BGIS apply leading-practices in winter maintenance by influencing contractors to actively participate in SASC’s award-winning training and certification programs.

    Once applied, the SASC’s programs have demonstrated their ability to promote safety and address a growing environmental concern surrounding the over-application of salt as a result of poor winter maintenance practices. BGIS will lead the industry by encouraging all service partners in new tendering engagements for winter management services in 2020 to be SASC certified through their proposal evaluation criteria.

    “We help facility owners and operators to work with their contractors and others so that facilities and the public are protected. It’s about collaboration and awareness so that everyone benefits – including our water resources” shared Eric Hodgins the volunteer President of Smart About Salt Council.

    “Our excessive use of road salt is poisoning our watersheds, rivers and lakes, putting at risk many of our freshwater species” says John Castelhano, VP Strategic Sourcing NA at BGIS.

    This partnership will provide benefits to the environment, while still ensuring safety first.

  • 13 Feb 2020 3:52 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    KITCHENER -- A remote controlled robot could one day replace your snow shovel.

    Developers working out of Kitchener's Velocity Garage are working on an electric, snow-plowing and salt-brining robot.

    The robot walks along the sidewalk at walking speed, taking up only half so that pedestrians can pass them.

    The idea was inspired from wanting to remove snow and brine sidewalks in an environmentally-friendly way.

    "Also including the ability for sidewalk brining before storms means that less salt water is going to go into the water tables and that we can have that be kept bare as the snow is coming down, as well," explains Technical Developer Tim Lichti.

    A remote control operates the robot, but the goal is for it to be semi-autonomous one day.

    That means they would be able to operate on their own but they'd always have human eyes on them to ensure they're operating safely.

    The robot is in a private pilot testing phase now.

    Its developers are hoping to expand the pilot next winter.

  • 03 Feb 2020 9:35 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The Ottawa River Keeper is raising an alarm about high concentrations of salt found in early testing of Ottawa area rivers and creeks.

    The River Keeper, Elizabeth Logue, said the non-profit organization has begun a winter road salt monitoring program aimed at establishing whether city road salt operations and other de-icing efforts by residents are having a detrimental impact on local waterways.

    The early results are already causing concern.

    "There are regulations that are made to determine the levels that are a problem for the environment," Logue said. "We can see concentrations higher than acceptable."


    This week, on the shore of a creek near Highway 417 off Pinecrest Road, Logue and biologist Katy Alambo scooped up buckets of water and used a device the size of a television remote control to test for "electrical conductivity," or EC. The more salt in the water, the stronger the EC.

    It's a preliminary test to see whether the water should be further analyzed by a lab.

    On this day, the EC levels were 50 per cent higher than the upper limit for acceptable.

    "It's concerning," said Logue, who says other samples in several locations around the city are showing similar findings, "It's an indicator we may be using too much salt."

    "High levels of salt concentrations can have affects on organisms," said Alambo. "Chloride is toxic to organisms when exposed to high concentrations."


    The high levels match some of the findings from a "Surface Water Quality Report" produced for the city's Environment and Climate Protection Committee in the spring of 2017.

    Ryan Polkinghorne, the city's program manager of stormwater management and environmental monitoring, said in a statement to CBC the report suggests "overall, median chloride concentrations in the Ottawa River remain well within water quality objectives."

    The report does note an overall trend between 2010 and 2014 of improving water quality on most criteria like phosphorous and copper, but there were two exceptions: E. coli and chloride.

    "Although chloride may be naturally occurring, there is evidence that the most likely source of the upward trend for chlorides is an increasing release of road salt," the report noted.

    The report noted several waterways where water samples showing high levels of chloride above Canadian guidelines for safe levels: samples taken from 2010-14 from Shirley's Brook near Hines Road showed 63 per cent of samples exceeded standards. At Still Water Creek, 92 per cent of samples exceeded standards. Pinecrest Creek and Nepean Creek also exceeded acceptable chloride levels in more than 80 per cent of samples.

    Among all the Ottawa River East tributaries as well as Ottawa River West tributaries sampled, half exceeded safe levels, and a quarter of Rideau River North Tributaries.

    Among its recommendations is a call to "continue with existing efforts to reduce salt use on city infrastructure/facilities as well as, on commercial private property."


    However, a statement from the city program responsible for salt management suggests its current practice hits the right balance between the need for public safety, and protecting the environment.

    "A de-icer is required to maintain roads to a bare condition, and the industry's primary deicing method is road salt," wrote Kevin Monette, the city's manager of operational research and projects.

    The city's goal is to minimize environmental impacts, while still maintaining the city standard, he wrote. At the same time, Monette said Ottawa is an early adopter of salt management best practices.


    The Ottawa River Keeper said its own testing comes in lieu of city testing in winter months.

    Logue said winter testing is critical as it captures the impact on water during peak periods when road salt is being used on Ottawa roads.

    Polkinghorne said the city is committed to water testing on "a suite of parameters on a monthly basis during ice-free conditions, as the ice conditions can present safety issues for staff."

    Since 2018, the city has partnered with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority to monitor 170 waterways in the Ottawa areas. The RVCA said it is due to produce its first report, likely in 2021.

  • 24 Jan 2020 12:03 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Cornwall’s roads department is planning to try using beet juice to keep the city’s roads ice-free as a way to cut down on the amount of road salt it uses.

    Road salt prices have skyrocketed over the past two years due to major production disruptions in 2018. The world’s largest underground salt mine in Goderich, Ont., had a 12-week strike while another mine in Ohio had several of its shafts flooded around the same time.

    The market still has not recovered, and road salt prices are 30 per cent higher than they were last year. Because of these prices, municipalities in Canada and the United States have been trying out alternative to ease their winter-control budgets. Part of that solution? Sugar beet juice.

    Just like how salt lowers the melting point of ice, the sugars in the beet juice have a similar effect. The beet juice is actually a kind of molasses produced as a waste product from sugar refinement. It can be mixed with water and some salt and sprayed on roads.

    It has been used in other municipalities with success, similar to other wet-application sprays, or de-icers— though many of these are brines of some sort, which still require salt.

    The City of Cornwall’s acting-division manager of municipal works, Paul Rochon, says the plan is to run a trial with the beet juice this winter to see just how well it works.

    “We are just waiting for some colder temperatures; we want to try it out when it’s good and cold outside. We’ve been very fortunate this year to have such mild temperatures so far this winter, but when the cold does come we will put it down on one of our major roads,” said Rochon. “We will let everyone know where we are trying.”

    Currently, Cornwall sprays its road salt with a calcium-chloride or magnesium-chloride solution while it is being spread on the roads to maximize the salt’s effectiveness. This is done after the snow has already fallen.

    The beet juice, in contrast, is sprayed on roads before a storm and works by preventing the ice from being able to bond to the road. The benefit of this is that the juice is non-corrosive to cars and spaying it down beforehand means that the city should need less salt to de-ice the roads after a storm.

    The beet juice is slightly more expensive the calcium-chloride or magnesium-chloride solutions, but the key question will be if it is effective enough to save money in salt costs.

    “Some studies have proven that we can use less salt, which is very expensive. So we are going to give it a test trial this year,” said Rochon.

    The trial will cost about only a few thousand dollars, the money for which will come out of the department’s current operating budget.

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