• 11 Apr 2017 6:16 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Salting of roads in winter helps drivers navigate snow and ice, but the runoff may be irreparably damaging freshwater lakes in the United States and Canada, researchers warned Monday.

    Most of the 371 North American freshwater lakes in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and Ontario province are showing an increase in salinity from chloride runoff, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    And if the trend continues it could doom aquatic life and reduce water quality, limiting the supply of drinking and irrigation water, the researchers said.

    The picture is sobering," said lead author Hilary Dugan, a freshwater specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    "We compiled long-term data, and compared chloride concentrations in North American lakes and reservoirs to climate and land use patterns, with the goal of revealing whether, how, and why salinization is changing across broad geographic scales," Dugan said in a statement.

    "For lakes, small amounts of shoreline development translate into big salinization risks."

    Each lake studied was larger than four hectares and had at least 10 years of chloride data.

    The majority (284) of the lakes were located in the North American lakes region that includes 10 U.S. states -- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin -- as well as Ontario province.

    The use of road salt to keep winter roads navigable has been rising since the 1940s. The researchers determined that each year, some 23 million metric tons of sodium chloride-based de-icer are applied to North American roads.

    - Underestimated problem -

    Much of that road salt washes into nearby water bodies, becoming a major source of chloride pollution to groundwater, streams, rivers and lakes.

    To measure the quantities of road salt applied to roadways and other impervious surfaces, such as parking lots and sidewalks, the researchers evaluated road density and land cover within a 100- to 1,500-metre buffer around each of the study lakes.

    Their findings were clear: roads and other impervious surfaces within 500 meters of a lake's shoreline were a strong predictor of elevated chloride concentrations in the water.

    When the results of the study are extrapolated to all lakes in the North American lakes region, some 7,770 lakes may be at risk of rising salinity.

    If the escalation in salinization continues, it said, many lakes will exceed in the next 50 years the aquatic life threshold criterion for chronic chloride exposure set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 230 milligrams per liter.

    According to the study, 14 lakes are expected to exceed the EPA standard by 2050, and 47 are on track to reach chloride concentrations of 100 milligrams/litre during the same time period.

    "These results are likely an underestimation of the salinization problem, as a number of regions with heavy road-salt application, such as Quebec or the Maritime Provinces of Canada, had no long-term lake data available," said co-author Flora Krivak-Tetley, a graduate student at Dartmouth College.

    High chloride levels in lakes have been shown to alter the composition of fish, invertebrates, and the plankton that form the base of the aquatic food web.

    That can reduce aquatic species and, in extreme cases, salinization can cause low oxygen conditions that smother aquatic life and reduce water quality, the study noted.

  • 27 Mar 2017 3:08 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Chloride-based chemicals, known as road salts, play a key role in ensuring safe winter-driving conditions, especially for highways enduring cold and snowy weather. They are widely applied for anti-icing, de-icing, and pre-wetting operations. Traditionally, nominal cost and effectiveness are the major criteria when the Department of Transportation professionals select the chemicals for snow and ice control. However, there are growing concerns over negative impacts that road salts pose on motor vehicles, the transportation infrastructure, and the environment. The corrosion and environmental costs pertinent to road salts amount up to at least $469 per ton on average, and they are often ignored in formulating highway winter maintenance strategies. The magnitude of such hidden costs is significant compared with the nominal cost of using road salts for snow and ice control (approximately three times). Some products for snow and ice control may cost less in regard to materials, labor and equipment, but cost more in the long run as a result of their corrosion and environmental impacts. Therefore, an asset management perspective should be utilized to ensure that any cost savings of winter maintenance practices would not be at the price of deteriorated infrastructure, impaired environment, or jeopardized traveler safety. The crux is to strike the right balance in meeting multiple goals of the highway agency, including safety, mobility, environmental stewardship, infrastructure preservation, and economics. Considerable amount of research is still needed in order to fill the knowledge gap and establish a scientifically robust, defensible decision-making process for highway winter maintenance.

    Xianming Shi, Ph.D. Program Manager, Weather & Winter Mobility Western Transportation Institute Montana State University, Box 174250, Bozeman, MT 59717-4250 Phone: (406) 994-6486 Fax: (406) 994-1697 Email:

  • 19 Mar 2017 8:08 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Each winter, more than 120,000 tonnes of salt is dumped on Toronto pavement.

    By Catherine McIntyre

    Brought To You By Toronto and Region Conservation.

    Nearly every surface of the city was slick with ice when Angela Wallace left home to pick up her children after school on February 7. She was careful as she walked down her stairs but slipped on the final step, striking the back of her head on a wall. Suspecting a concussion, her worries were confirmed in the emergency room. 

    Accidents like Wallace’s are a top concern for property owners fearful of being sued for slip and falls on their icy premises. For that reason, many use exorbitant amounts of road salt to avoid legal repercussions.

    Indeed, keeping sidewalks and roads cleared is critical for the safety of all pedestrians and drivers in the city. But even Wallace, a project manager with Toronto and Region Conservation, will argue that we are collectively overdoing it.

    Every year, more than 120,000 tonnes of salt is dumped on Toronto pavement. And the impact of that sodium chloride, once the ice and snow melts away, can be devastating to our city’s natural and built environments.

    Heavy salt use corrodes steel and rebar inside concrete buildings, it damages asphalt, and is deemed a main culprit behind the crumbling state of the Gardiner Expressway (to say nothing of the wavy white streaks it leaves on your shoes and the stinging in your dog’s paws).

    What’s more, the constant leaching of salt from contaminated soil into the city’s streams and rivers means that Toronto’s waterways are chronically salinated, well beyond normal levels, even in the summer.

    “In highly urbanized area, most of the fish and bugs, if they were sensitive to chloride, they’ve either left or died already,” says Wallace, whose work focuses on watershed monitoring and reporting. She likens aquatic species’ aversion to salty water to humans’ intolerance of the atmosphere of outer space. “Once road salt starts going into the stream, it changes the atmosphere they’re living in. It’s also very dehydrating,” Wallace explains.

    What’s left are hardy organisms that can tolerate urbanized watersheds and their high levels of salt. One sensitive fish of particular concern is the Redside Dace. The minnow is native to North America and, in Canada, it’s only found in Ontario. With more and more urbanization in the province coupled with persistent overuse of road salt, the fish is teetering on extinction.

    It’s not just the watersheds that are affected by corrosive compound. In 2001, Environment Canada released a detailed five-year study on the environmental impact of road salt. They concluded that, at the current levels being used, salt was harmful to freshwater ecosystems, as well as soil, vegetation, drinking water, and wildlife in general. Road salt was designated as a toxic substance. “Usually when you declare a substance as toxic, regulations follow,” says Tim Van Seters, manager of the Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program at TRCA. But that’s not quite what happened. Instead, a multi stakeholder committee created a voluntary code of practice—recommendations, if you will—for the environmental management of salt.

    Since then, many large municipalities across Canada, including Toronto, have developed road management plans. They’ve started measuring the temperature of the roads before salt applications, so they know how much to use and when. They track where they salt using GPS. They rely more on road weather information systems so they can put salt down before the storm starts, and sometimes pre-wet the salt so it sticks to the road more effectively, allowing them to cut down on how much they use.

    While all of this is important for minimizing use, a major barrier remains: the best practices recommendations don’t extend to private property-owners, who are responsible for 40 per cent of the road salt used in Toronto.

    “There’s a fear of liability,” says Van Seters. “Fear that someone might sue a property owner as a result of slips and falls. That pushes up the rates of salt they put down.” Those rates, according to the TRCA, are up to 13 times greater than what’s applied to roads.

    Wallace knows all too well that using salt is critical for public safety. “There’s no way around it,” she says. “But we could be using it much more efficiently.”

    That’s exactly what Van Seters is aiming to do with the Salt Application Verified Equipment Program. The initiative helps give private contractors the tools and knowledge to follow the same best practices the municipalities use: to lower their rates, update their equipment and, most importantly, make sure their machinery is properly calibrated. “You can’t follow recommended rates when you don’t know how much is coming out of your spreader,” says Van Seters. It’s a simple fix that can have enormous impacts on how much salt the city absorbs. In fact, using calibrated salt spreaders that adjust the amount of salt applied according to the truck speed, can reduce the amount of product that’s used by as much as 47 per cent, compared to widely used manual spreaders.

    Van Seters has teamed up with two other nearby conservation authorities, Lake Simcoe and Credit Valley, to launch SAVE pilot programs. The group is also working to merge SAVE with the successful Smart about Salt certification program, which offers salt management training for property owners and contractors across Ontario. The goal, eventually, is to create one certification program for private contractors and facility managers that the province will recognize as meeting the best practices guidelines.

    A handful of municipalities across Canada, including Niagara, have experimented with alternatives to road salt. A mixture of saline, sugar, and beet juice is one popular way to cut down on the stuff, but it’s not a perfect solution. Namely, it’s a pricey alternative and it still contains salt.

    Both Van Seters and Wallace agree that doing away with salt isn’t an option—certainly not any time soon. But simply enforcing best management practice, for municipalities and private property owners alike, can help significantly limit the toxic, yet necessary, substance from seeping into our environment.

  • 02 Mar 2017 6:24 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    On Feb. 23, 2017, Pennsylvania State Representative Thomas Murt (R-Montgomery/Philadelphia) introduced House Bill 642.This legislation is an anti-indemnification bill disallowing unfair transfer of liability from the property owner to the professional snow and ice management contractor.

    The bill was assigned to the House Insurance Committee and will receive a hearing on March 13, 2017 at 11 am in room B-31. The hearing is open to the public.

    This is the same legislation Representative Murt introduced in the last session of Congress. Unfortunately, the bill did not get farther than an open hearing held late in the year. By that point, though, the legislation was running out of time. Being introduced early in the session provides Pennsylvania’s professional snow and ice management industry plenty of hope that the bill will be enacted sooner than later.

  • 28 Feb 2017 9:12 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

     Queen’s University will house a state-of-the-art water research centre, thanks to a $5M donation from geologist and resource company entrepreneur Ross J Beaty and his wife, Trisha. The donation will fund the establishment of the new Beaty Water Research Centre, which will bring together approximately 50 faculty and graduate students from a variety of fields. “The real world doesn’t have silos and pigeonholes,” said Beaty. “The real world is a very complex interdisciplinary thing, particularly when you are studying something environmental, like water, which is obviously a very, very complex thing that requires study from many, many different fields.” Queen’s Professor Pascale Champagne, the Canada Research Chair in Bioresources Engineering, noted that the new centre would bring together students and faculty to conduct research on campus and under one roof. The Whig | Queen's

  • 26 Jan 2017 6:39 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Editor's note. While safety is paramount and the injury or death of anyone is lamentable it is unfortunate that the misunderstanding of rock salt and brine have 'precipitated' a debate which should be focused on encouraging the adoption of best practices.

    Legislators introduced a bill last week to ban salt brine from being applied on Vermont’s public roads.

    The state’s Transportation Agency currently sprays roads with a salt solution that melts snow, but critics say the brine has particularly corrosive effects on vehicles.

    “My understanding, from talking to some mechanics … is that (salt brine) adheres to, and sticks, to vehicles more than just what actual salt does that’s applied,” said one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell.

    He said he has heard from mechanics that salt brine is especially bad for mufflers and brake lines.

    But officials at the Vermont Department of Transportation say the brine is simply salt and water.

    Workers generally make salt brine by combining water with the same salt that is applied to roads dry at other times, said Erik Filkorn, a public outreach administrator at the agency.

    Under extreme cold, they sometimes add a substance that makes the solution melt snow and ice at temperatures below where sodium chloride is effective, said the agency’s head of operations, Scott Rogers.

    This additive is not corrosive and in fact contains corrosion inhibitors, Rogers said.

    Higley and three other lawmakers joined the lead sponsor, Rep. Clement Bissonnette, D-Winooski, in proposing the ban.

    H.82 takes up only five sentences. One specifies that the bill pertains only to liquid salt solutions. The salt is most often sodium chloride, it says, but can be calcium chloride or magnesium chloride.

    “The (Vermont Agency of Transportation), municipalities, and all other persons shall not use salt brine on any highway, or on any private or public road used by motor vehicles, in Vermont,” reads the third sentence.

    Violations of the ban would be enforced as unpermitted water pollution. The ban would take effect at the beginning of July.

    The bill would prohibit one of the Transportation Agency’s most-used methods of clearing roads in winter, said Filkorn.

    “Salt and brine are an essential part of what we do to fight snow and ice,” he said. Officials say brine allows workers to use less sand and salt while making roads safe.

    Filkorn said he couldn’t immediately predict what the AOT might do if the bill were to pass.

    According to the agency’s snow and ice control plan, the salt brine it uses consists of a 23 percent solution of salt in water. It is used primarily when road surface temperatures are above 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The plan stipulates that the agency must add a 3 percent solution of corrosion inhibitors to salt brine.

    The agency applied more than 2.27 million gallons of salt brine on Vermont roads during the winter of 2014-2015, according to the AOT’s 2016 fact book and annual report. The agency spread 132,271 tons of salt during the same period and more than 9,600 tons of sand. These treatments were spread over 6,522 lane-miles of road surface.

    Salt brine is widely suspected of worsening corrosion of vehicles, although the state says that has not been shown.

    An accident in Barre in 2014 illustrated the risks that rusted auto components can pose if not repaired. Investigators said unrepaired corrosion on a car built in the early 1990s contributed to the death of a woman in a crash on a steep hill. The car’s brake lines burst just before or during the accident, investigators said.

    The humid climate of Northeast states seems to be hard on automobiles, even without the salt, said Mason Kuhn, head technician at Montpelier’s State Street Gulf.

    “Any cars from the Northeast — New York, Maine, New Hampshire — are terrible to work on” because the region’s humidity corrodes their parts, Kuhn said.

    The salt only exacerbates this effect, he said.

    “Cars are affected by the salt here, in particular, far more than other places,” Kuhn said. “We live in a state that’s really moist, and we use a lot of salt.”

    But he wasn’t sure a salt brine ban would make a difference. If the state has to substitute dry salt, that will convert to salt brine when it melts the frozen water and dissolves into it, he said. In the winter, Kuhn said, meltwater that remains on roads is nothing other than salt brine.

    Auto owners can combat the effects of road salt by simply washing their vehicles, particularly the undercarriage, Kuhn said.

    A more permanent solution is undercoating, he said. That is a protective film sprayed onto the bottom of an automobile that shields the chassis and components from corrosion.

    “Regardless of where you get it done, if someone does a half-decent job (of undercoating) it’ll definitely extend the life of your car,” Kuhn said.

  • 09 Feb 2016 7:35 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    A community group wants the Halifax Regional Municipality to stop salting roads around Williams Lake near Purcells Cove Road because it says the lake is being contaminated. 

    The Williams Lake Conservation Company, a volunteer non-profit group that works to promote the health of the lake and its watershed, hired retired biologist David Patriquin to test salt levels in the water. 

    "He found that in one area of the lake it appeared that was not turning over, which is fundamental to a healthy lake," said Kathleen Hall, who sits on the group's executive and lives on Williams Lake. 

    "The bottom turns over and oxygen is allowed to get in there and so the plants can grow. Of course, if the lake becomes stagnant and doesn't turn over then organisms will die. There will be no fish, birds whatever," Hall told CBC Radio's Information Morning.

    Road salt running into lake

    Williams said high salt content can prevent a lake from turning over. Tests also showed salt concentrations were higher where runoff from a new subdivision entered the lake. 

    "The salts were seven times what the inputs were in the undeveloped parts of Williams Lake. So that's a really strong indication that development leads to more salt," said Hall. 

    Williams Lake used to have some protection; for 25 years the municipality agreed not to salt streets near the lake. Hall said last year crews suddenly began salting again, this time using a brine mixture. She said she was told the municipality changed its policy.   

    Hall said her conservation group is urging the municipality to once again stop the practice.

    HRM following federal salting guidelines

    So far Halifax has no plans to do that.  

    In an email, municipal spokeswoman Jennifer Stairs said Halifax follows Environment Canada's code of practice regarding the environmental management of road salts.

    The code recommends using salt management plans to reduce the negative environmental impact. Stairs said negative impacts can be cut by delivering the right amount of salt, in the right place, at the right time. 

    If people living around Williams Lake have concerns about how salt is applied they can discuss them with the municipality or submit a petition, she said.

    Hall said the group already raised its concerns with the municipality, but it hasn't led to change. 

    "The two parties are locked in a situation where the residents are definitely unhappy and things aren't changing, but then the city will say, 'Well, we don't know what's going on.'" 


  • 25 Nov 2015 8:44 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)



    The City of Toronto will spend $11 million on road salt alone this winter, officials said as they revealed the winter operations budget on Monday.

    Overall, the city will spend $85 million this winter to keep streets and sidewalks clear of snow and to fix any issues that may arise.

    "Weather is completely unpredictable and for that reason the city is going to be ready for whatever winter throws at us," said Coun. Jaye Robinson, who chairs the city's public works committee.

    Robinson added that after last year's frigid winter, city officials are hoping this one will be warmer.

    "We're hoping for mild temperatures," she said, on one of the coldest days of fall so far.

    By the numbers

    Some 1,500 workers will be tasked with clearing thousands of kilometres of roads and sidewalks this winter. Many are hoping for a gentler winter than last year's, when weeks of sub-zero temperatures wreaked havoc on the city's infrastructure.

    Here's the data the city has to consider ahead of Dec. 22, the official start of winter:

    • 133: Centimetres of snow the city usually gets each winter, based on a 30-year average.
    • 10,200: Tonnes of salt used in one storm.
    • 1,102: Number of city-operated winter work vehicles, including plows and salt trucks.

    Water main breaks are also common at this time of the year, though many are caused by aging pipes — some nearly 60 years old — as opposed to the wintry weather.

    There were three major breaks on Monday morning alone, city staff said.

    The city urged residents to insulate pipes, especially ones near outside walls or in colder areas like crawl spaces or garages. People should also drain the outdoor water supply, the city said.

    The city plans to spend $146 million this year fixing water mains.  

  • 17 Nov 2015 9:54 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)


    The water that supplies aquifers and wells that billions of people rely on around the world is, from a practical perspective, mostly a non-renewable resource that could run out in many places, a new Canadian-led study has found.

    While many people may think groundwater is replenished by rain and melting snow the way lakes and rivers are, underground water is actually renewed much more slowly.

    In fact, just six per cent of the groundwater around the world is replenished and renewed within a "human lifetime" of 50 years, reports University of Victoria hydrogeologist Tom Gleeson and his collaborators in a new study published in the journal Nature Geoscience today.

    That water tends to be mainly found within a few hundred metres of the surface, where it is most vulnerable to being contaminated by pollution or depleted by higher temperatures and reduced rainfall as a result of climate change, the researchers found.

    "Groundwater is a super-important resource," Gleeson said in an interview with CBC News. "It's used by more than a third of the world's population every day for their drinking water and it's used by agriculture and industry."

    More than a third of the Canadian population relies on groundwater, including the entire population of P.E.I. and some fairly large urban centres such as Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph in Ontario, Gleeson added.

    Because groundwater is so important to billions of people around the world, Gleeson and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Calgary, and the University Gottingen were interested in finding out how much groundwater there is in the world and to get an idea of when it will run out.

    Nuclear clues

    Scientists had previously made a rough estimate of the amount of groundwater in the world, but no one knew how much is renewable and how quickly it's replenished.

    Gleeson and his colleagues came up with a way to figure out what groundwater was less than 50 years old. In the 1960s, during the Cold War, a number of countries were doing above-ground nuclear testing. This introduced a radioactive form of hydrogen, called tritium, into the world's water supply.

    The researchers figured that groundwater with high levels of tritium was renewed since the 1960s. Groundwater with negligible levels was older.

    By looking at 3,500 measurements of tritium in groundwater from 55 countries and using computer models to trace the flow of groundwater around the world, they were able to estimate how much groundwater was young and renewable and how much was older.

    They also confirmed the total quantity of groundwater around the world using a variety of data like the permeability of rock to the flow of water and how much water could be stored in different places, based on how porous the rock there was.

    A look at previous estimates of total groundwater showed the crude calculations were not far off.

    "When we actually went back and traced what the actual calculation, it was literally two lines of text that someone could do at a bar," Gleeson said. "But the amazing thing was that they were right."

    His team came up with almost exactly the same number.

    Plentiful but finite

    They estimated that the total amount of groundwater in the world was 22.6 million cubic kilometres — enough to cover all the land on Earth to a depth of 180 metres. The amount that was renewable was no more than 1.3 million cubic kilometres or less than six per cent. But the researchers said that was likely an overestimate due to the types of rock in the areas where most of the measurements were taken. Correcting for that suggested that the actual amount of groundwater renewable within 50 years was likely only 0.35 million cubic kilometres, or enough to cover all the land on Earth to a depth of three metres.

    The good news is that the amount of renewable groundwater on Earth is quite large —- three times larger than all other fresh water contained in lakes and rivers on Earth, the researchers reported.

    But it isn't evenly distributed. There was less groundwater, especially younger groundwater, in more arid regions.

    Gleeson said in places like California and the U.S. Midwest, people are already using "non-renewable" water that is thousands of years old and in places such as Egypt, they're tapping into water that may have last been renewed a million years ago. Such old water isn't just non-renewable on human timescales — it tends to be saltier and more contaminated than younger groundwater.

    In addition, overusing groundwater, either old or young, can lower subsurface water levels and dry up streams, which could have a huge effect on ecosystems on the surface, Gleeson added.

    He hopes the study will help remind and motivate people to manage their groundwater resources better. "And realize that it's finite and a limited resource that we need to respect and manage properly."

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