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  • 10 Sep 2018 8:55 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Anyone living in a snowbelt state, where pothole dodging has become a survival skill, realizes we have serious issues with our roads and bridges.

    And what the public is becoming increasingly aware of is that winter maintenance salting is largely the cause. Less obvious, but of equal concern, is the escalating damage winter salting is having on water resources and the ecosystems they support.

    Beyond someone’s individual concerns with road conditions and environmental contamination, this is a problem that truly affects everyone. In fact, current estimates place the cost to taxpayers at a minimum of $1,800 per ton of salt spread to repair the damage caused by winter salting. Multiply that by the 20 million tons of road salt used annually in the U.S. (a number that is rapidly increasing) and it is clear that this trend, if left unchecked, will continue to deliver sizable economic consequences, not to mention the environmental impacts that can lead to wide-ranging public health concerns.

    Troubling data

    Over the past decade, the impacts from road salt use have been the subject of many nationwide studies, including those published by The Cary Institute, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USGS, Clear Roads, and the University of Montana’s Western Transportation Institute. Among the findings of these studies is that chloride levels in urban-affected inland lakes and rivers have more than doubled in two decades across the snowbelt.


    Monitoring states are already reporting significant disruption in the balance of critical ecosystems resulting from these elevated chloride levels. This has come in the form of increased algae blooms, the growing presence of invasive species and fish kill-off. In several U.S. states as well as the Ontario region of Canada, officials are finding well water that has become irrevocably compromised and warn that cities with aging infrastructures that pull their drinking water from inland sources are at risk of similar circumstances to what was seen in Flint, Mich., if system upgrades are not made and salting practices continue on their current paths.

    Taking action

    As a result of these environmental concerns, the issue of road salt use is increasingly on the radar of public officials and starting to drive initiatives and regulations nationwide. For instance, in Chicago there is a mandate to reduce the chlorides entering the Chicago Area Waterways System (CAWS) and to enforce the Illinois EPA Water Criteria for chlorides year-round. This will require a broad regional partnership of municipalities, industry and the public to implement sustainable salt best-management practices. A coalition of this nature is currently underway in the Lake George Watershed in New York to reduce road salt impacts and protect its $2 billion tourist industry.


    Other programs, like Wisconsin Salt Wise, Vermont Better Roads, Ontario’s Smart About Salt and Minnesota’s Winter Maintenance Assessment tool (WMAt), seek to teach sustainable salt best-management practices, not only to municipal and commercial service providers, but also the public that uses their services. In New Hampshire, the approach has been to pass legislation offering liability protection to service providers who obtain Green SnowPro Certification, whereas in other areas of the country winter maintenance operations are increasingly facing fines for the improper storage and application of road salt.


    Though many assume highway and road maintenance to be the major cause, the fact is the greatest uptick in salt usage has been for the servicing of parking lots, which now accounts for more than 50% of the salt loading to the environment. In 2016, this finding prompted the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA) to adopt sustainability as a core value and to caution its members to anticipate regulation.


    Brine time

    The current industry atmosphere has created a conundrum for winter maintenance providers. On the one hand, there is increased public pressure to protect the environment, but there also is increasing demand for better road safety—the one requires less road salt use and the other ostensibly requires more. This leaves winter maintenance service providers caught in the middle, with plenty of need for their services, and plenty of potential liability for providing them. Fortunately, the answer may not be that complicated.


    The use of liquid snow and ice control materials (i.e., salt brine) can mitigate these risks by preserving optimal surface driving conditions, but with less cost and significantly less salt than traditional deicing methods. Because less salt is used, liquids are less damaging to infrastructure and the environment, as well as being a more sustainable solution for budget-strapped municipalities and commercial businesses trying to turn a profit. Liquids also are very versatile, with the ability to be effectively used before, during and after a winter event.


    Furthermore, liquids utilize much more precise material application systems that substantially reduce the amount of material that is broadcast, plowed or blown off the target surface into surrounding storm drains or green spaces. And because liquids dry on the surface, unlike granular salt and sand left behind after spreading, their use results in much less labor/cost for cleanup.


    Anti-icing is an industry game changing best-management practice focused on prevention instead of reaction. This approach can be employed at any point in the order of operations, as long as bonded ice/hard pack is not present. Prior to a winter event, anti-icing involves a light direct liquid application (DLA) of brine (30 to 50 gal/lm) to the pavement surface. This can be done days prior to the event, as long as rain is not expected. After the application, the brine settles into the pores of the surface and dries. What remains is a protective barrier of fine salt that insulates the pavement and prevents the formation of ice. If anti-icing measures are properly executed, and plowing measures properly timed, plowing will be much more effective. Because of this, anti-icing has been demonstrated to preserve optimal pavement conditions and maintain greater surface friction longer than traditional salting/sanding.


    Anti-icing can be likened to the benefits of preventive medicine. There is hard evidence supporting that investing money to keep patients healthy is substantially more cost-effective (and profitable) than trying to make them better after they are already sick. A similar premise exists with anti-icing. Pretreating the driving surface with brine before a storm keeps it free of bonded ice, which is safer and more cost-effective than trying to remove bonded ice/hard pack after it has formed. Put into numbers, studies have shown, and field data confirms, that preventive anti-icing utilizes as little as one-fourth of the material and one-tenth of the overall cost (labor, equipment and material) of traditional deicing.


    Another tactic is post-treating with liquids to extend anti-icing efforts. This can be an effective alternative to spreading granular salt when conditions warrant, preventive measures have been successful, or a minimal amount of unbonded precipitation exists on the surface. Utilizing slightly higher application rates than for pretreating, DLA post treatment is simple and cost-effective. Clear Roads has conducted nationwide field research on During Storm DLA (September 2010) and Liquid-only Plow Routes (June 2018) highlighting the benefits of post treatment. Both studies are available on the Clear Roads website:


    Deicing with pre-wet granular salt

    If it is not possible to stay ahead of the storm and deicing is required, brine can still be an effective tool. Spreading granular salt that is pre-wet with brine (8 to 20 gal/ton) as it is applied to the pavement or using salt slurry spreader technology (60 to 90 gal/ton) significantly outperforms dry salting on many levels. Pre-wetting is an ideal entry point when getting into liquid applications, requiring little change to operations and minimal equipment investment.


    In the 10-15 minutes following application to the surface, 80% of the melting action of pre-wet salt is coming from the brine liquid. During that time, the dry material is jumpstarted and brining faster to accelerate results. In addition to providing substantially faster melting action, pre-wetting also helps keep salt on the driving surface. According to the Michigan DOT’s 2012 Bounce and Scatter study, pre-wetting keeps 30% more salt on the intended surface.

    The best brine

    DLA for deicing bonded ice or hardpack is not a widely practiced or recommended tactic. Though expert practitioners have ventured into this approach, DLA for deicing purposes requires significant experience using liquids and the use of tactics/equipment capable of penetrating ice/hard pack and forcing the brine down to the driving surface. Caution is recommended before engaging in this approach because without the proper knowledge and equipment, one could create a greater hazard than already exists—effectively turning a slippery road into an ice rink.


    The best type of brine is entirely dependent on the unique needs of the user. However, according to the Salt Institute, salt brine is the most environmentally safe and cost-effective choice at pavement temperatures above 15°F. And, for a majority of the winter season throughout the snowbelt, pavement temperatures remain on average above that threshold.


    When low temperature performance is required, the more costly calcium and magnesium chloride brines, as well as proprietary products that use these materials as a base, are often preferred. Agricultural byproducts are additives that can enhance brine performance. According to studies by Pacific Northwest Snowfighters (PNS) and Clear Roads, while these additives alone do not demonstrate significant melting properties, they can help brine adhere to the pavement longer, providing a greater residual effect, and they also can reduce the corrosive impact of brine on mild steel. Some agricultural additives also have been demonstrated to enable the brine to work at lower temperatures by inhibiting the brine’s freeze point.


    Commercial service providers in Minnesota and Illinois have reported achieving desired results for their zero tolerance accounts at pavement temperatures below 0°F by blending salt brine with calcium/ag byproducts at up to 30% of the mixture. Many state DOTs and municipal highway departments likewise report achieving optimal road safety performance results at low temperatures utilizing such blends.


    There is no one answer to the type, timing and amount of brine to use. For each agency or service provider, the best choice depends on a host of variables, including typical winter conditions in the area, supply availability, material costs, volume needs, storage capacity, performance goals and operator experience.


    While liquid strategies are nothing new and have been used by highway departments for a couple decades, they have failed to achieve widespread recognition in the industry until relatively recently—mainly due to the low cost and ready availability of salt. But things are changing. Volatility in the supply and cost of salt has severely constrained winter maintenance providers in recent years. Turning salt into brine provides sustainable, cost-effective solutions that can substantially reduce salt usage—and do so while optimizing highway safety and mitigating the damaging impacts of salt on infrastructure and the environment in ways traditional methods of deicing cannot. Simply put, liquids are irreplaceable tools for the salt-smart snowfighter.

  • 31 Aug 2018 6:00 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Increasingly it appears that for 2018 there may be serious salt inventory shortages.  The reasons for this inventory shortage include:

    ·        A late season ice storm in the spring of 2018 depleted much of the salt inventory;

    ·        The Compass Minerals mine in Goderich, Ontario (the worlds largest salt supplier) experienced an elevent week strike this summer (Please see This has seriously affected the amount of salt available for shipping and stockpiling in Ontario and other areas.  Salt is typically stockpiled during the summer months.   It is impossible to replenish the stockpiles before winter;

    ·        Another major producer, Cargill, is having difficulty with maintaining supply because of a water leak in their Cleveland mine.    Please see:;

    ·        Municipalities are ordering more salt due to liability concerns and to deal with increasing inclement weather events which may be due to a warming climate; and,

    ·        Municipalities are often given priority over private contractors because of contractual obligations.

    Many winter maintenance contractors and suppliers have been notified that there would be little or no supply from traditional sources.  As a result, suppliers are sourcing salt from all over the world.  However, transportation costs are higher and logistics are complex. The global procurement process for salt is full of risk as it relates to quality, cost and logistics.   Not surprisingly a reduced supply and increased demand is causing a great deal of insecurity and uncertainty. Undoubtedly a substantial price increase is anticipated in the price of salt.

    Industry professionals are considering contingency plans to address the challenges surrounding the projected salt shortage. Beyond applying leading practices in winter maintenance as taught through Smart About Salt Council’s (SASC’s) “Essentials of Salt Management” course (available in class and online) some ideas include the following:

    ·        Work with suppliers to secure salt as soon as possible.  This likely means that winter maintenance contractors will have to pre-pay for salt and find areas to stock pile the product in an environmentally responsible manner;

    ·        Develop a menu of service levels:  Not all properties require the same service level.  In some cases, contractors may be able to close off/restrict access to certain areas, this could reduce salt considerably; and,

    ·        Contractors are encouraged to consider using segmented ploughs, using treated salt when available, pre-wetting salt, enhanced training, calibration of equipment, locating snow piles judicially etc.  We will do all we can to manage the situation.  

    For more information about the volunteer-led, not-for-profit Smart About Salt Council (SASC) and our collaborative programs please visit


  • 25 Jul 2018 6:54 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The Saskatchewan farming family that owns the land where salt water leaked from a Husky Energy line says the company is "underplaying" the damage.

    Ken and Nick Wourms have released aerial photos that show yellowed trees and vegetation in what appears to be the path of the leak, which spilled salt water last Wednesday into the Englishman River, about 500 metres from the leak site near Turtleford, Sask.

    Husky spokesperson Mel Duvall said in a response to emailed questions that the company does not know how much water leaked, adding that testing has not detected any hydrocarbon or salinity contamination in the Englishman River. He said Husky did not mention any damage to farmland in its initial statement on the leak because "some impact to vegetation was to be expected."

    "In the early stages we were working to get an assessment of impacted areas," said Duvall.

    But Ken said the impact to his land is significant.

    "We have 90-foot [30-metre], 50-year-old trees that are dead … we've got a whole grove of them gone," he said.

    "That's some of the most pristine, native, untouched, undisturbed prairie wood and natural landscape in northwestern Saskatchewan."

    He's also concerned about potential contamination of the land by uncleaned equipment Husky has brought onto the farm property. 

    "They're driving over it wherever they want, I've got no releases for them to [excavate] anything and at the end of the day they're underplaying what's going on out there."

    Duvall said the company is aware that Wourms is concerned about the impact to his land and said "that is completely understandable."

    "We've had a good relationship and we will continue to work closely with him on the remediation work," said Duvall in an email.

    The company said it had started removing top soil that was contaminated by the salt water but it has halted all excavation at the request of the family, who also urged Husky not to remove any dead trees.  

    Husky said the water is being tested to determine a full chemical breakdown, but the results are not yet available. It said salt water was responsible for the death of the vegetation.

    Ken plans to hire an independent soil specialist to analyze how deep the salt has penetrated.

    His son Nick, who is in the process of taking over the farm, took aerial photos of the site with a drone he uses for crop monitoring.

    He said part of the affected area is canola crop, while the area closest to the river is natural prairie grassland that his family has left untouched.

    "It's a big concern, especially with me trying to take over the family farm," said Nick.

    "My parents [are passing] it to the next generation which is me. My whole lifetime I'm going to have to deal with this stuff."

    Both Nick and Ken fear the salt water has penetrated the ground deeply and will have a lasting impact on soil quality.

    For them, they said salt water is worse than oil.

    Two years ago, a Husky pipeline near Maidstone, Sask. leaked about 225,000 litres of oil, about 40 per cent of which leaked into the North Saskatchewan River.

    "Oil is one thing, and I mean, it's a problem, but it stays on the surface," said Nick.

    "Whereas salt water leaches into the ground and it goes really deep."

    Duvall said in an email Husky does not know how deep into the soil the water has leaked, adding that soil from affected areas will be removed and replaced.

    "Testing is underway on the soil," said Duvall.

    "Our initial focus was on testing the river water and putting measures in place to prevent further drainage into the river." 

    The Wourms family said Husky should have notified them of their plan before removing soil and bringing equipment onto their property.

    They said the company was unable to answer their questions about how the equipment was cleaned to ensure there was no possibility of contamination. Husky said it has asked the companies that own the equipment to provide that information.  

    "We grow a lot of canola on our farm and if even a little speck of the spore of clubroot is in the soil — our farmland that's worth $12 million now could be worth two in a matter of a couple of years," said Nick.

    "We try to take care with cleaning our equipment, steaming our equipment, bleaching it and they ran in with all this excavation equipment without asking us and it was covered in mud, it wasn't cleaned properly."

    The leaking line was used to transport saline water brought to surface during the production of oil. It runs between a water handling facility and a disposal well west of Turtleford.

    The treated water was on its way to being disposed of before the leak, which happened about 500 metres west of the Englishman River. The line has since been shut down but the precise location of the breach is still not known.

    Although the leak was discovered Wednesday, Husky said it does not know when it started.

    Nick and Ken believe it could have started about three weeks ago, having noticed their spraying machine sank into the field.

    "I just assumed it was wet in the area because of all the rains we'd been having," he said.

    The leak occurred in the Rural Municipality of Frenchman Butte near Turtleford, which has a population just under 500 people, and is located 207 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

    Husky Energy said there are no reports of wildlife being affected.

  • 24 Jul 2018 7:01 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    An Island man says a chemical used to minimize dust on dirt roads during the summer months does a number on his vehicle and leaves him paying more for car maintenance every year.

    The province applies magnesium chloride — a form of salt — as a dust suppressant on dirt roads Island-wide. But Merrill Gillis, who lives on unpaved Gillis Road, said the chemical is corrosive and harmful to everything from his brakes to the body of his vehicle.

    "The problem is when you get your car cleaned for the summer … one drive on the road, it destroys that," he said. 

    "You basically end up getting the undercoating done twice a year to try and fight this."

    He said the chemical doesn't just add to the maintenance of his car, but his dog has trouble walking on it. He said it's hard on the paws of any animals walking on the road and questioned its impact on nearby rivers and streams.

    A spokesperson with P.E.I.'s Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy said magnesium chloride is used in many sectors and has been demonstrated to be environmentally friendly. In a statement, the department also said the chemical is less corrosive than calcium chloride, another dust suppressant.

    Gillis said dealing with salt on roads in the winter is bad enough, and that he'd like to get a break from it in the summer months.

    He wants the province find a different solution to the dust problem or allow residents to choose whether or not they'd like the substance applied to their road.

    And he'd like to see more discussion of the issue. 

    "People should know what it's costing them, in terms of vehicle maintenance and other issues," Gillis said.

    "I think that if they knew what the damage they were enduring with this or paying for they would be dead set against it."

  • 18 Jul 2018 10:53 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    NEWMARKET (July 18, 2018) Conservation Authorities are pleased to see the release of the Good Practices for Winter Maintenance in Salt Vulnerable Areas. This guidance was developed by a multi-stakeholder group chaired by the Ontario Good Roads Association and Conservation Ontario, and comprised of members from municipalities, conservation authorities, as well as provincial and federal governments.  Road salt is commonly used for maintaining road safety during winter, and also to suppress dust on unpaved roads. Excess road salt impacts watershed health, affecting our surface and groundwater resources including drinking water sources. “The successful partnership with the Ontario Good Roads Association has resulted in the development of a milestone guidance for road salt management. This guidance includes a wide variety of good practices that will help protect Ontario’s drinking water sources.” Kim Gavine, General Manager of Conservation Ontario said.  The good practices guidance is a living document that currently focusses on protecting municipal drinking water sources that have high levels of sodium or chloride. These practices can be considered by municipalities in salt management plans, by contractors who manage parking lots, and for risk management plans developed under the Clean Water Act.
    Read about Good Practices for Winter Maintenance in Salt Vulnerable Areas  Learn about Ontario’s Drinking Water Source Protection program
    For more information: Kim Gavine, General Manager, Conservation Ontario   (905) 895-0716 ext. 231
    Chitra Gowda, Source Water Protection Lead, Conservation Ontario   (905) 895-0716 ext. 225

  • 20 Apr 2018 8:15 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    A drainage engineer with the city of Greater Sudbury says to better understand the issue of rising salt levels in Ramsey Lake, you have to take a shorter view of the data. 

    CBC news reported last week that the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance, a group of scientists and concerned citizens, is worried about the amount of salt and chloride now in Ramsey Lake and beyond. 

    The group pointed straight at city salt trucks as a big factor in the ongoing rise.

    Paul Javor, a drainage engineer and self-styled "stormwater guy" with the city, said there's no doubt that Sudbury's water has become increasingly salinated over the years. 

    For him, it's a question of what the levels look like since the city started to make changes to its road salting practices.

    "In the long-term projection, [the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance is] looking at data from the 90s until relatively recently, and there's certainly an upward trend," he said. 

    "[But] if we looked at the data kind of going forward kind of from 2010, we're seeing that salt levels are kind of levelling out within Ramsey Lake, and similarly, chloride levels are as well." 

    Javor said about a decade ago, the city stopped salting most local and side roads, partly as a cost-saving measure, since salt is pricier than sand. 

    Now, fewer than 25 per cent of Sudbury roads get salt at all. 

    Javor said to maximize the road salt the city actually does put down, it has also started making it's own brine.

    "[That's] a pre-wetting agent that we use to help salt stick to the asphalt, which helps us use less salt," Javor explained.

    Another change: Javor said the city doesn't salt as often as it once did during a single winter storm. Now, it salts once, and then roads get sand after that. Javor said it's an effort to keep salt from simply being plowed off the road with each pass of a plow.

    Competing interests

    While the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance decries the use of any road salt, calling for alternatives like other phosphates or nothing at all, Javor said the city has an obligation to balance environmental stewardship with road safety; a tension that he said plays out at every level. 

    "I've seen it between two neighbours. One neighbour wants his lakeside, you know, 'make sure there's no salt remotely in my area,' and the other neighbour puts the salt to it.

    Javor said another part of the salt contamination issue comes down to private and commercial salt use. He said he'd like to see more public education about putting salt down in the slippery winter months.

  • 18 Apr 2018 3:23 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    TORONTO—Road salt is fast becoming the new phosphorous, according to Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president, Freshwater Program at the World Wildlife Fund. Although the situation is not yet a crisis, Ms. Hendriks said that she was very pleased with the funding allocation in the new Ontario budget aimed at getting ahead of the problem—but there is plenty we can all do to ensure Ontario’s fresh water stays fresh.

    “We have been working on the road salt issue for over a year now,” said Ms. Hendriks. “It is great to see the government has seen this as an issue that we need to get ahead of.”

    Recent studies on inland lakes and rivers have raised the alarm on rising levels of salinity in those bodies. “Our rivers are turning into oceans,” said Ms. Hendriks. “Salt levels are so high. The government has identified salt as a toxic substance.”

    Ms. Hendriks said that she anticipates it will not be long until road salt “becomes the next phosphorus.” For decades now, governments, NGOs, cottager associations and individuals have targeted phosphorous with diligence and some effect, although some Great Lakes are still experiencing negative impacts from phosphorous. “Lake Erie is experiencing huge algae blooms,” noted Ms. Hendriks. Remediating a problem that has been allowed to get out of hand is generally a lot harder than getting ahead of an issue and preventing it from becoming a potential ecological disaster.

    Salt has been fingered as a major negative environmental factor for marine life in freshwater eco-systems.

    With government onside, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done on the public education side of things. “It’s not the water we need to manage,” suggested Ms. Hendriks, “it’s the people.”

    There are plenty of options for a grassroots approach to helping deal with the issue. “One thing people can do themselves is to dial back on their own use of salt,” said Ms. Hendriks. “We encourage people to shovel their walkways and driveways (instead of just laying down copious amounts of salt) and wear winter boots.”

    When it comes to the larger parking lots and malls, let your concerns be known to the management, she suggests. “If you see a mall parking lot being salted, let the management know that you would prefer they find another way of keeping their lots clear.”

    Concerns about slips, falls and the associated legal ramifications have gotten out of hand, suggests Ms. Hendriks. “We need to dial back on the liability.”

    Ms. Hendriks suggests that businesses and municipalities can seek out Smart About Salt certified contractors when they are arranging to have their lots taken care of over the winter. The Smart About Salt program is offered by the Smart About Salt Council, a not-for-profit organization which offers training to improve winter salting practices on facilities and recognizes industry leaders through certification. Its programs can be accessed at

    “It’s a day-long training session that provides information on the most effective use of salt,” said Ms. Hendriks.

    Winter salt is economical to purchase, readily available and an effective tool for keeping surfaces clear of ice, notes the Smart About Salt website. “However it is important to manage its use to reduce the negative impact winter salt can have on our environment. Salt damage costs us all. As individuals, it affects our clothes, shoes, animal friends, lawns, gardens and vehicles. In our communities, it damages sidewalks, roads, buildings and bridges and leads to increased maintenance costs.”

    Ms. Hendriks pointed to the Elliot Lake Mall collapse tragedy as an example. “Salt was a contributing factor,” she noted.

    As for the province’s largest user of road salt, through its road contractors, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) says it keeps a close rein on its use. “The Ministry of Transportation takes its responsibility for the safety and mobility of the motoring public and the environment seriously,” responded Gordan Rennie, regional issues and media advisor for the Northeast. “MTO utilizes best management practices to ensure only the right amount of road salt is used for each winter storm. The ministry is fully compliant with, and in some cases exceeds, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Code of Practice for Environmental Management of Road Salt. The code was developed to reduce the environmental impact of road salt while maintaining roadway safety.”

    Mr. Rennie went on to note that “MTO uses the following approaches to maximize the effectiveness of road salt used and minimize the environmental impact: Direct Liquid Application (DLA) is used prior to winter storms to proactively apply anti-icing liquids preventing the snow and ice from bonding with the road surface. This reduces the need for road salt. You may have seen this on the road as thin white lines. In Northeastern Ontario DLA is typically used on higher volume highways such as Highways 11, 17 and 400.”

    In addition, “salt can be pre-wet with an anti-icing liquid to help it stick to the road, reducing the amount bouncing into the ditches. This enables a reduction in the salt application rate.   

    Electronic Spreader Controllers ensure a consistent application of salt across the pavement regardless of the vehicle speed. Automated Vehicle Location is used to track salt applied to the road to ensure best management practices are achieved. Road Weather Information Stations are used across the province to accurately forecast the weather and pavement conditions to effectively plan winter maintenance operations and identify the most effective response to each storm.”

    Even moving the material around is kept under close eye. “All salt is delivered in covered trucks, stored in covered facilities with impermeable bases to prevent loss to the environment,” said Mr. Rennie. “MTO works with stakeholders across Ontario, Canada and the United States to research new products and procedures to deliver better snow and ice control performance with less environmental impacts. This includes anti-icing liquids and processes to enhance the performance of road salt.”

    As to investigating road salt alternatives, Mr. Rennie noted that the “MTO continues to monitor alternatives to road salt. There are a number of alternatives, including but not limited to: calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and calcium magnesium acetate. These alternatives typically cost significantly more than road salt and require higher application rates than road salt to achieve the same results. There are also environmental impacts associated with the road salt alternatives.”

    Citizen groups are stepping up across the North to tackle the issues close at hand. Sudbury is a good example of that movement. The Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance (GSWA) recently released its ‘Road Salt Discussion – Summary Report (Summary Report).’ This report was the result of the Road Salt Discussion event held on February 5 at the Vale Living with Lakes Centre.

    A press release notes that at the event GSWA hosted a science panel made up of Dr. John Gunn, Canada research chair, Stressed Aquatic Systems and Director of Vale Living with Lakes Centre; Dr. Charles Ramcharan, associate professor, School of the Environment at Laurentian University; and Anoop Naik, water resources specialist, with Conservation Sudbury.

    The purpose of the event was to raise an awareness, and to explore possible solutions to increasing sodium and chloride levels in Ramsey Lake, a primary source of drinking water for over 50,000 residents in the City of Sudbury.  Ramsey’s sodium levels are approaching three times the level at which the Medical Officer of Health must be notified so patients on sodium-restricted diets can be alerted; and chloride levels are rapidly approaching a level that can harm aquatic life.

    “GSWA has formally expressed concern with the City at every opportunity with regard to the additional winter road salt required to service the Second Avenue Industrial Improvements, the proposed casino parking lot, and the numerous other road projects proposed in the recent Transportation Study Report,” the group states. “We are also concerned that the Ramsey Lake Sub-Watershed Study is not adequately considering the road salt issue.”

    As Dr. Gunn reminded us, “with our rocky thin soil, we have very little resistance to the hydraulic changes of climate change, and the current sub-watershed study is not facing this future at all.” 

  • 17 Apr 2018 12:03 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The United States has made enormous progress in reducing water pollution since the Clean Water Act was passed nearly 50 years ago. Rivers no longer catch fire when oil slicks on their surfaces ignite. And many harbors that once were fouled with sewage now draw swimmers and boaters.

    But as Earth Day approaches, it is important to realize that new, more complex challenges are emerging. In a study published earlier this year, we found that a cocktail of chemicals from many human activities is making U.S. rivers saltier and more alkaline across the nation. Surprisingly, road salt in winter is not the only source: construction, agriculture, and many other activities also play roles across regions.

    These changes pose serious threats to drinking water supplies, urban infrastructure and natural ecosystems. Salt pollution is not currently regulated at the federal level, and state and local controls are inconsistent.

    Our research shows that when salts from different sources mix, they can have broader impacts than they would individually. It also shows the importance of supporting water quality monitoring nationwide, so that we can detect and address other pollution problems that have yet to be recognized.

    Altered waters

    Our group has been studying freshwater salinization for over 15 years. In 2005 we published a paper that demonstrated that levels of sodium chloride (common table salt) were rapidly increasing in fresh waters across the northeastern United States.

    Until that time, scientists thought that salinization was a serious problem mainly in arid regions where water evaporates rapidly, leaving salts behind. But we found that it was affecting major drinking water supplies, exceeding toxic levels for some aquatic organisms and persisting in the environment year-round, even in humid regions.

    The main cause we found was the spread of paved surfaces, such as roads and parking lots. Communities in cold regions use de-icing salts to clear snow from roads during winter, and the more roads they build, the more treatment is needed. We found that a 1 percent increase in paved surfaces could boost salt concentrations in nearby water bodies to levels more than 10 times higher than pristine forested conditions.

    In 2013, we published another study showing that rivers were becoming more alkaline across regions of the eastern United States. At that time acid rain – i.e., too much acid in rainwater, caused by air pollution – had been a well-known environmental issue for several decades. However, alkalinization was not recognized in the same way, and its effects are still poorly understood now.

    Alkalinization is the opposite of acidification: It occurs when water’s pH value increases instead of falling. As water becomes more alkaline, certain chemicals dissolved in it can become toxic. For example, ammonium is a nutrient in freshwater ecosystems, but is converted to toxic ammonia gas in significant concentrations in waters with a high pH. Alkaline conditions also enhance release of phosphorus from sediments, which can trigger nuisance blooms of algae and bacteria.

    We found that a process we called “human-accelerated weathering” was breaking down rock and releasing minerals into rivers that were making them more alkaline. The process of weathering rocks and minerals that become exported to rivers is typically slow, but we showed that land development and decades of exposure to acid rain were speeding it. We also suggested that widespread use of geologic materials in fertilizers and concrete was a factor.

    Identifying freshwater salinization syndrome

    Our study on human-accelerated weathering showed that along with sodium chloride, other dissolved salts were increasing in fresh water across large regions of the eastern United States. This made us wonder whether there could be a link to our previous work on salinization in these regions.

    We started to recognize that in theory, salt pollution and human-accelerated weathering could be sending increasing quantities of salts that were alkaline into rivers throughout the nation, and that this could increase their pH levels. We knew that ocean water, which is naturally salty, has a higher pH than fresh water because it has accumulated high levels of alkaline salts. After much analysis, we proposed that similar interconnected processes could influence salinity and pH in fresh water.

    Many sources release alkaline salts into the environment, including weathering of impervious surfaces, fertilizer and lime use in agriculture, mine drainage, irrigation runoff and winter use of road salt. Initially, parts of these alkaline salts bind to soil. But when they come into contact with sodium – for example, excess road salt – chemical reactions occur that release the alkaline salts, which then wash into freshwater ecosystems.

    We called this process freshwater salinization syndrome because it was producing multiple effects on salts, alkalinity and pH, which are fundamental chemical properties of water.

    Different causes by region

    Figuring out this process was a team project that required knowledge of limnology (the study of inland waters), geochemistry and geography. The causes vary from one location to another, but the outcomes can be similar.

    For example, rivers are becoming more saline and alkaline in parts of North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and other states that use little or no road salt. This is likely due to human-accelerated weathering in locations underlain by limestone (which dissolves when it comes in contact with acid rainwater) and in urbanized areas with lots of concrete infrastructure, as well as urban salt pollution from sewage, water softeners or fertilizers.

    Our research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and drew on enormous quantities of monitoring data from ecosystems across the United States collected mainly by the U.S. Geological Survey. We analyzed long-term trends in the chemistry of rivers over five decades and compared these trends across different major river systems and regions.

    We also analyzed trends in major estuaries, such as the Hudson River and the Chesapeake Bay, to investigate whether increasingly alkaline inputs from rivers could potentially influence the chemistry of coastal waters. Our results show that changes in salts can alter concentrations of pollutants such as excess phosphorus and nutrients that are bound up in sediments at these sites.

    Managing salt pollution

    Freshwater salinization syndrome is affecting drinking water supplies in many parts of the United States. In some cases it is altering the taste of water or threatening the health of people with hypertension.

    There is growing concern that salts in fresh water can corrode water pipes and release toxic metals such as lead into drinking water. They also can trigger reactions that mobilize other contaminants and pollutants from soils into rivers.

    As other scientists have shown, mixtures of salts can be more toxic to aquatic life than just one salt alone. The Environmental Protection Agency does not currently regulate salts as primary contaminants in drinking water, and state and local regulation of salt releases over wide areas from activities such as road treatment are sparse and inconsistent.

    We believe there is a serious need for federal regulations and regional plans to reduce salt pollution in fresh water. One strategy would be to reduce use of road salts by calibrating application and adjusting application rates based on temperature. In addition, not all salts are created equal: It may be more efficient to use certain salts as deicers at lower temperatures. Finally, organic de-icing solutions use less salt than conventional versions.

    New forms of water pollution are constantly emerging, and it is important to identify how different human activities accelerate geological processes in nature. Fresh water accounts for only about 3 percent of the Earth’s total water supply (the rest is in the oceans), and there will always be a need for better understanding and management of this precious resource.

  • 13 Apr 2018 9:16 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The company that intends to gradually discharge 1.3 million cubic metres of salt into the Shubenacadie River estuary says it searched unsuccessfully for disposal alternatives.

    “The Alton environmental assessment in 2007 looked at commercial and technical alternatives to brine release, but they were not considered economic or feasible,” said Lori MacLean, spokeswoman for Alton Natural Gas Storage LP.

    “Recently, commercial and technical alternatives to brine release into the tidal estuary were revisited by the Alton team, including underground storage, salt market and evaporation, but again were not found to be commercially or technically feasible.”

    The company, a subsidiary of AltaGas, plans to draw nearly 10,000 cubic metres of water daily from the Shubenacadie River estuary at Fort Ellis and propel it through a 12-kilometre underground pipeline to the Brentwood Road cavern site. There, the water will be pumped nearly 1,000 metres underground to flush out salt, creating two caverns, each about the size of an average office building and capable of storing up to six billion cubic feet of natural gas.

    The brine created by the salt dissolution will then be pumped back to the estuary for release into the river system, a gradual discharge of 1.3 million cubic metres of salt over a two- to three-year period.

    There have been recent suggestions that the salt brine could be used by the province to de-ice some of its highways.

    Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines was not available for an interview this week but spokeswoman Marla MacInnis said in an email that the department is not involved in any discussions with Alton Gas.

    She said the 240,000 tonnes of salt used annually on Nova Scotia highways comes from Pugwash, Magdalen Islands and the Bahamas. The average cost of buying the salt, including trucking to locations, is $81 per tonne. The cost to apply the salt is separate. The salt is hauled to the province’s 53 storage locations and is spread in both brine and rock form.

    The Canadian Salt Company runs the mine in Pugwash that produces a good portion of the highway salt. The 2007 environmental assessment application from Alton Gas explained that the sale of brine to the Canadian Salt Company or to Sifto Canada and the “supply of brine to provincial and municipal users for winter maintenance of roads and producing evaporated salt for commercial sale were investigated.”

    The application said that the total consumption of brine in the province for pre-wetting highways during the winter season was expected to reach a maximum of 2,800 cubic metres a year.

    “The potential market for Alton brine as a pre-wetting supply is very small and represents less than one day of Alton production per year,” according to the environment application.

    It concluded that the evaporation facilities at Canadian Salt and Sifto consume saturated brine at an average combined rate of 1,560 cubic metres per day.

    “Cost of brine generation is low while brine quality and supply are well established and secure,” the application said. “Freight cost for delivering brine from Alton to producers is estimated at 13 times the cost of brine produced on site.”

    A scenario of building an evaporator plant with downstream equipment and storage for the Alton project was also considered.

    “On a capital and operating cost basis alone, such a facility cannot compete with the established producers,” the environmental registration report said. “In addition, the current markets are over-supplied and volumes such as those contemplated from Alton are excessive when compared even to national volumes for evaporated salt.”

    MacLean said Alton’s brine release will take place in the Shubenacadie’s “powerful tidal estuary that fills with salt water from the ocean twice a day.”

    She said that brining operations at Alton must stop when the river’s natural salinity reaches 28 parts per thousand, which is within the range of salinity for the river. As designed, salinity at the Alton discharge location must mirror the conditions in the river, MacLean said.

    “If a technical or economic alternative to brine release is identified, Alton would be open to exploring that,” MacLean said.

    The company announced recently that the anticipated start date for storing gas in the caverns has been moved up to sometime in 2021. Prior to that undetermined date, the brining process will take two to three years.

    The project is strongly opposed by area residents, environmentalists and the nearby Indian Brook First Nation.

  • 13 Apr 2018 6:09 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    You wouldn’t know to look at the beautiful lake which borders the city of Sudbury in northern Ontario, but the lake is in crisis.

    The small city of over 160,000 is billed as the “city of lakes” but gets much of its drinking water from the large Ramsey Lake. That might not be possible in a few years, and the entire lake ecosystem could be severely damaged.

    A report this week says sodium levels are at about three times the level where people on sodium restricted diets must be notified and chloride levels are nearing a concentration that can harm aquatic life.

    The Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance released its reporte this week.

    Five Million tonnes

    Canada uses some five million tonnes of industrial salt to combat snow and ice on roads to make them safer in winter.

    The reason is road salt, and it’s an issue that’s becoming an increasing concern in areas around Canada.

    All that salty meltwater runs off into the environment where it become toxic to plants and aquatic life.

    John Gunn, a Canada Research Chair on stressed aquatic systems, was one of the panelists gathered by the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance meeting on Monday.  . Quoted by the CBC he noted that   “As salt rises you have to assume that most things that leave the land and other pollutants or nutrients are also entering the lake”.  He pointed out the salt issue is an indicator of how we’re treating our land and waterways.

    The meeting discussed several possible alternatives from using less salt, to using sand and abrasives only in the watershed area, to seeking de-icing alternative more eco-friendly products such as beet, pickle, or potato juice.

    Attendees said that the city should spend as much money on watershed management and ensuring clean water as its investments into new casino and new arts centre.

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