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  • 19 Jan 2022 11:56 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The road salt that makes winter driving safer may be killing salmon (burnabybeacon.com)

    This winter has seen more snowfall in the Lower Mainland than just about any other in recent memory.

    And with that snowfall comes the regular side-effects—heated debates over shovelling sidewalks vs bike lanes; bent fenders; slips; falls; gleeful children tobogganing.

    But one important side-effect of the snow that often goes unnoticed—at least to the average person—is the salt that is spread by governments and property owners to lower the melting point of snow on roads and sidewalks.

    Good for driving, bad for fish

    While the practice improves road safety, it has negative effects on the local ecology. After the snow melts away, the salt may be absorbed into the ground or washed into storm sewers.

    Atop Burnaby Mountain, that groundwater is the source for streams like Stoney Creek, while many storm sewers also flow into local streams.

    And that may hold back decades of conservation work that has been done on streams like Stoney Creek.

    A local salt monitoring program is aiming to change that and to achieve stricter regulations on the application of road salt to deal with snow.

    In fact, Alan James, a member of the Stoney Creek Environment Committee, would like to see it eventually phased out altogether.

    James, a retired geophysicist and computer scientist, is a volunteer with the committee and has been keeping an eye on the road salt issue since 2008.

    For the majority of that time, the work has included attending monitoring equipment in Stoney Creek to download data. But in the last year or so, he’s gotten his hands on something a bit more modern.

    In an application on his phone, James can view real-time data from the streams, thanks to new, automated loggers that regularly upload data via cellular signals to the app. At any given moment, James can open his phone and see how much chloride is in the creek.

    Correlation or causation?

    In an interview about a year ago, James said he believed there was a correlation between road salt and chloride contamination of local streams, but he wasn’t particularly comfortable saying there was a causal relationship.

    But over the past year, he has become more and more convinced.

    “I’m more comfortable saying it’s causal, but it’s still not proven. The only way to do that would be to have somebody actually [record] the time that the truck went by the creek and then compare it to the time that they came,” James said in an interview this week.

    Still, the correlation between the two is notable. On the SCEC website, graphs of data from three loggers—one in Stoney Creek, one at Cariboo Dam, and one in Eagle Creek—show spikes in chloride levels coinciding with temperatures dropping below 0C, when road salt may have been applied.

    And the spikes are far from subtle. In many cases, they resemble spears jutting upwards, out of otherwise relatively stable lines.

    In Stoney Creek’s Tributary 3A, the chloride levels hold steady under 100mg/L for weeks in November and early December before shooting suddenly to nearly 1,000mg/L around Dec 6, the first recorded contamination of the season.

    The chloride levels then drop off nearly as suddenly as they rose, returning to the ambient chloride levels.

    Eagle Creek similarly saw levels rise from the 100-250mg/L range to close to 1,000mg/L in time with temperatures dipping below freezing.

    Road salt is toxic

    At around the same time as the automated loggers were brought in, James contacted Chris Wood, an adjunct professor of zoology at UBC, along with a number of other UBC faculty members.

    Wood specifically studies toxicology and its effects on aquatic animals, like fish, and James sought his expert advice on a salt monitoring program.

    Scientific research on chloride-contaminated streams has “really exploded in the last five years,” Wood said, particularly with research from the US and Europe, as well as some studies in Eastern Canada.

    “We call it, now, the salinization syndrome, which is associated with excessive application of salt,” Wood said. “What I’m reading is that the effects are really devastating.”

    In fact, the federal government declared road salt to be a toxic substance as far back as 1999.

    BC government guidelines put the upper limit for prolonged exposure to chloride at 150mg/L, while the short-term exposure shouldn’t exceed 600mg/L. That’s well below the near-1,000mg/L levels being reached in Burnaby.

    And the effects of road salt and chloride contamination can be serious. One 2018 study noted Atlantic salmon alevins—that is, freshly hatched salmon—saw “significantly higher” mortality rates when tested with concentrations of 100-1,000mg/L.

    James said salt-contaminated creeks have also been shown to cause abnormalities in development and even hemorrhaging in alevins’ yolk sacs just after hatching.

    And there may even be an effect on benthic invertebrates, the small animals young salmon feed on before they head to the ocean.

    Struggling streams

    Part of the importance of the issue is that salmon returns have been diminishing for decades, although streamkeeper organizations like SCEC have managed to boost some local populations over the years.

    “Pacific salmon are under incredible pressures, and this is just one more very serious load on them in urbanized areas,” Wood said.

    And Stoney Creek, despite the efforts of streamkeepers, has seen its share of challenges, from sewage contamination to an unknown contaminant that killed hundreds of fish in the fall.

    After some conversation about the monitoring project, James and Wood got to wondering whether the problem would be more widespread than just in Stoney Creek.

    “We decided, in fact, that it was worth trying to raise funding for a more ambitious project, not just for Stoney Creek, but for many other local salmon spawning streams,” Wood said.

    James reached out to streamkeeper organizations throughout the Lower Mainland to gauge interest in participating in the program—Wood said the hope is to get monitors into 30 different streams.

    So far, Wood said about 15 local streamkeeper organizations throughout the region have signed onto the project if it goes ahead.

    James said that includes organizations in Surrey and even as far out as Chilliwack.

    Getting universities involved

    In order to fund the five-year project, the group is seeking close to $600,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, a funding arm of the federal government.

    Much of that money would be going toward training students, with three post-secondary schools—UBC, BCIT, and SFU—signed on to the project, including research projects from PhD students and masters students.

    “Each of the students would have their individual projects, which would either be the project or the thesis which would help them earn their degree,” Wood said.

    Among the projects being looked at are a proposed UBC PhD thesis looking at the effects of salt on the physiology of coho and chum salmon. That would particularly focus on early-life development and would span four-and-a-half years for that student.

    A pair of masters students are looking to do offshoot projects that would focus on specific aspects of the amount of salt in the water and fish development.

    SFU students are expecting to look at the effects of road salt on the young salmons’ food source, the insect larvae and benthic invertebrates.

    BCIT students, meanwhile, will be doing shorter projects over three or four months that would get into some of the more granular details.

    If the project doesn’t get the funding they’re seeking from the research council, Wood said all hope is not lost. The Pacific Sciences Enterprise Centre—part of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans—has been “very generous with the time of one of their employees,” he said.

    And if the funding from the research council falls through, Wood said the group will seek funding straight from the source.

    The positive impact of citizen science

    On the West Coast, the issue often goes under the radar because the Lower Mainland only sees snow a couple of times per year—usually.

    But since he started on it in 2008, James said he’s happy to have seen his SCEC work on road salts incur changes at SFU. But in the past 14 years, the federal government has still failed to adequately regulate the use of road salt, he said.

    Wood said the work being done by citizen scientists like James has had a major effect on environmental issues.

    “I think in general, governments, regulatory bodies are becoming much more receptive to what I would call bottom-up science and bottom-up concern about environmental issues,” Wood said.

    “I think that the sort of activism Alan in particular, and many of his colleagues, [has] shown is great. I wouldn’t be involved in it myself, unless he reached out to me and asked for a little bit more scientific expertise.”

    ‘Use less salt’

    Research has generally shown road salt to be detrimental to local streams, and governments even acknowledge that. But so far, James said, they haven’t taken adequate action.

    Action on reducing or eliminating salt could also help beyond the streams—salt also has a damaging effect on the roads it’s spread on and on the cars that drive over it.

    And there are alternatives to salt. Calgary, for instance, has had a successful run using beet juice combined with a brine.

    But at the very least, James and Wood said, there needs to be work done to reduce the amount of salt that is used. They said people frequently use far more than is necessary.

    “I’m hoping that a scientific study will be sufficient to get them to make salt regulated in the same way that they regulate pesticides like roundup. The operators need to have training and certification, and right now it’s a free-for-all,” James said.

    “There are lots of techniques that can be used, and most of them are: use less salt.”

  • 18 Jan 2022 9:31 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The sting of salt, despite a warmer winter in Central Canada | The Star

    Road salt is toxic. “Environment Canada has deemed road salt a hazardous substance,” says Lee Gould, executive director of the not-for-profit organization Smart About Salt Council.

    Yet salt also helps create a safer environment for driving and walking in slipper winter conditions. Therein lies the rub.

    Gould tells us that our fresh waterways around Toronto are loaded with the stuff. A few years ago, Atlantic saltwater-loving East Coast crabs were found in the Humber River. “Often our local fresh waterways contain more salt than naturally salty oceans,” he said.

    The Smart About Salt Council is dedicated to the responsible use of salt. You have likely seen piles of the stuff accumulate on outdoor steps, sidewalks, at a curb’s edge or at the entrance to a store. We crunch through rock salt and our winter footwear pays the price. Salt is a painful problem for GTA dogs and their sensitive paws. Metal car bodies suffer from the corrosive nature of road salt as do metal stair rails and pillars, and even concrete building foundations.

    So, what to do? “From a safety perspective, homeowners should demand that those who are hired to undertake snow and ice removal are knowledgeable,” suggest Gould. “It’s an irony that we wouldn’t hire an untrained (andand uncertified) electrician, but we don’t demand the same of those that are striving to keep facilities and businesses open, to protect some of our most vulnerable people, like seniors, and those utilizing health care facilities, schools, etc.”

    He advises clearing snow and slush before applying salt, or a salt substitute. When you do put it down, only use it on a band of space on your walkway that is wide enough to walk on. Avoid applying salt to the margins of a hard surface, since it will run off as a salt/brine solution when it melts and harm plants, grass, hedges and trees.

    Salt substitutes have been around for a long time and are considered more friendly to plants, but most contain chloride. Though less toxic than salt, manufacturing chloride also produces nitrogen oxide, as does fertilizer production.

    Natural alternatives to salt include sand, sawdust, wood ash, sugar beet juice, kitty litter and dry coffee grounds.

    The Smart About Salt Council has an excellent website — smartaboutsalt.com — that is full of practical suggestions relating to the use of salt and also suggests substitutes.

    So far this winter, the use of road salt is down from previous years in Central Canada since — until the start of this past week! — we’ve enjoyed a mostly mild and snowless season. It’s been good for getting out and about.

    However, your garden plants may respond to our warmer temperatures and lack of snow in a variety of ways.

    The bad news: Some insects that are marginally hardy may survive the winter in fine shape. (Hello, Japanese beetle, you pain in the neck!) Plant diseases are generally not affected by cold temperatures, but moisture levels do affect them. More on that later this season.

    Some spring bulbs may sprout through the surface of the soil prematurely, especially where sun shines on the south or west side of a building, radiating heat that can force crocus, tulips, and the like to start growing early. For the most part, this is not a problem since spring-flowering bulbs have a natural antifreeze — unless flower buds form and we then get a cold snap below -8C.

    The good news: Marginally winter-hardy plants that we grow in our gardens will likely head into spring with flying colours. In the GTA, these may include rhododendrons, peach trees some Japanese maples, lavender and some Mediterranean herbs.

    At this point in the season, there is no measurable risk to a cold snap of -20C for a few days. But lower temperatures than that might kill off or create die-back on some plants.

    We will know more come April. Stay tuned — and consider your salt intake.

  • 13 Jan 2022 7:41 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    By a unanimous vote of 201-0, the Pennsylvania House or Representatives has forwarded the ASCA’s Model Legislation, the Snow Removal Limited Liability Act, House Bill 1665, on to the state senate where it has been assigned to the Judiciary Committee.

    This is a huge step for this important legislation, said Pa. State Representative Chris Quinn, the bill’s sponsor. “These unfair clauses are often used by many big box retail chains to force small business owners (snow contractors) to assume liability, which should be borne by the property owner.”

    Most snow removal contractors are not required to remove snow until there are 2 inches of snowfall. This “trigger” varies. Standard hold-harmless provisions, typically used by larger retail chains, force contractors to assume liability even though they are under no contractual obligation to remove snow and may not even have been on the premises.

    “These unfair contracts shift responsibility for damages which should be borne by the property owner,” added Quinn. “Because this unfair language often pits the client and contractor against each other, insurance carriers are forced to charge smaller contractors for two separate defense lawyers.

    “Exponentially increased liability insurance rates are the net effect of these hold-harmless agreements on small business owners who are most typically proprietors of snow removal businesses. The increased cost of doing business for these small business owners is ultimately passed on to the customer, which is bad for all Pennsylvanians,” he said.

    ASCA Executive Director Kevin Gilbride added, “The ASCA and Pennsylvania members have been working diligently for a number of years to get this legislation passed.  We are excited about this huge accomplishment and expect things move more quickly with the dominant vote the bill received in the house.”

    Gilbride encourages all Pennsylvania contractors to reach out their Senator ASAP and put their support behind the bill.  

    Pennsylvania snow and ice professionals can locate their state senator HERE

    Once on their page, click the white envelope under their picture to send them an email. Then copy and paste this message:

    House Bill 1665 just passes the state’s House of Representatives with a vote of 201-0.  This legislation will go a long way in making Pennsylvania safer for its citizens in the winter.  It will also benefit snow and ice management companies in reigning in skyrocketing insurance rates.  This legislation does not eliminate liability for snow and ice management companies, it simply places liability where it should be.  Professional snow and ice management companies are still liable if they do a poor job.  They are just not liable when they are not contractually obligated to service a property.  Please support this bill when it is presented in the Senate.

    The ASCA will continue to push hard to get this legislation passed soon.


  • 11 Jan 2022 1:15 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Are homeowners liable for slips on icy sidewalks? B.C.'s top court gave its final word on the matter last year | CBC News

    If you're crafting a legal strategy to ruin the homeowner whose unshovelled sidewalk led to your broken limb during B.C.'s latest snowmageddon, spare a thought for Darwin Der.

    The Burnaby man went all the way to B.C.'s Court of Appeal with a lawsuit against a couple he blamed for his slip on the pavement out front of their house — only to have the province's top court issue the final word last year on a classic Canadian legal conundrum.

    The appeal court judges found once and for all that property owners do not owe a "general duty of care to take reasonable care with respect to the removal of snow and ice from sidewalks adjacent to their property."

    It was a decision grounded in precedent established by wounded pedestrians from coast to coast to coast — one that harkens back to a question that has plagued judges for decades: What exactly does being a good neighbour mean?

    "Ninety years ago, our law became that one has a duty to look after their neighbour," says Ryan Dalziel, the lawyer who handled Der's challenge.

    "When it comes to compliance with safety-based bylaws for clearing sidewalks in front of your home, I say with all due respect to courts, judges and others of a different view, what is this if not taking care for one's neighbour?"

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

    According to an affidavit, Der's feet slid out from underneath him. 

    "When I regained some level of awareness, I could feel pain in my shoulder, neck and back, and I could not move," the affidavit said.

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

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

    An accident reconstruction expert said the Lower Mainland cycle of freezing and thawing that followed likely left the pavement vulnerable to the kind of melting that later leads to black ice.

    Der claimed the couple should have foreseen that the weather might turn the bare sidewalk into a skating rink.

    The judge who heard the case in the lower court rejected Der's argument, pointing out that finding homeowners liable for injuries suffered because they did their civic duty the wrong way would mean  "property owners would have an incentive not to make any efforts to comply with snow removal bylaws."

    In his appeal, Der argued that property owners should have a duty of care to the people walking past their homes.

    Although dozens of judges have considered similar situations, the B.C. Appeal Court became the first to conduct a legal test specifically designed to test the limits of legal responsibility between individuals.

    The ruling cites the so-called neighbour principle established in 1932 by the British House of Lords in what's widely known as the "snail in the bottle case" — because it began with a Scottish woman who sued when she was shocked and sickened after finding a decomposed snail at the bottom of her bottle of ginger beer.

    "You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour," Lord James Atkin said at the time.

    "Who, then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question."

    The B.C. Appeal Court judges found no reason to fault the widely cited logic of a judge who considered the "neighbour principle" in relation to snow clearing in 2000 in the case of a woman who fell on a sidewalk north of Toronto.

    "It would stretch it too far if it was applied in the circumstances of this case. A homeowner has a duty to ensure that his or her own property is maintained in a reasonable condition so that persons entering the property are not injured," the judge in that case said.

    "The snow and ice accumulating on public sidewalks and the potholes on the street in front of the house are the legal responsibility of the municipality, not the adjacent property owner."

    Courts have found exceptions involving business owners who fail to clear a portion of the sidewalk that they effectively use as a corridor to usher customers into their stores. 

    In that situation, the business becomes an occupier of the public space.

    In 2017, Ontario's Court of Appeal found Starbucks liable for a slice of pavement directly adjacent to a patio entrance.

    But B.C.'s Appeal Court judges found "the relationship between a pedestrian and residential property owner is not sufficiently close and direct to make it just and fair to impose a duty of care."

    They found that homeowners are not like managers of cafes or restaurants who actively court customers to walk the sidewalks leading into their businesses.

    The case was not appealed — meaning the nation's top court, the Supreme Court of Canada, will not have the chance to weigh in. 


  • 11 Jan 2022 12:31 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Too Much Salt: Good for Winter Travel, but with Consequences for Environmental and Human Health | Mirage News

    An overuse of road salt in the winter has potentially harmful effects for everything from wildlife to groundwater

    The winter months can bring dicey travel conditions, but those can be made safer with shovels, plows, and deicers like road salts. For road salts, a little can go a long way in improving safety, but its use is not without consequences. Researchers from the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are working to better understand the numerous environmental impacts of using too much salt on roads and walkways.

    Bigger Frogs, More Mosquitos

    Department of Natural Resources and the Environment researcher Tracy Rittenhouse and her group are investigating the effects road salts on amphibians.

    “Previous research showed that tadpoles tend to metamorph larger in size from salty wetlands and high salinity conditions,” Rittenhouse says. “Generally, we think larger size as a good thing but we’re not sure why they’re larger or how they might be different physiologically.”

    Rittenhouse explains that frogs starting life in saltier conditions, though larger, don’t seem to have any advantages later in life, whereas frogs from lower salt conditions started life smaller but grew much faster and larger over time. These results show that not only are amphibians amazingly tolerant to salt, but that we have much to learn. Despite the quantities of salt entering wetland environments, this resilience is why we have not seen massive declines in amphibian populations, says Rittenhouse.

    Another experiment completed by an undergraduate student in her lab group showed that juvenile frogs not only detect if soil is salty, they will consistently avoid those conditions.

    “That project opened up this whole arena of what we really should be looking at is the juvenile and adult frogs and how they might be responding to salinity in the terrestrial environment,” she says.

    Rittenhouse says there are other consequences to heavily salting the road, including disruptions in the food web that can harm some members of the ecosystem while benefiting others.

    “For example, salt generally kills most of the zooplankton,” Rittenhouse says. “Zooplankton eat phytoplankton, and tadpoles eat phytoplankton, so with fewer zooplankton, the tadpoles have more food, because those competitors are gone. You get shifts in the communities, but it’s not all negative for everything. Another thing that tends to do well in high salinity wetlands is mosquito larvae. Although a lot of other things die in high salinity conditions, the mosquitoes can tolerate it fairly well too. Maybe that would be a motivator to use less salt.”

    Rittenhouse cautions that unless the “more salt is better” mindset changes, we will start to see more negative effects.

    Future Changes in Plant Communities?

    UConn researchers Beth Lawrence, Ashley Helton, and Gary Robbins recently published a study in Ecosphere investigating the potential impacts of road salts on plant communities and biogeochemistry in wetlands. The road-dense and wetland-abundant landscape of the Northeast provides a perfect setting for this type of investigation, says Lawrence.

    “Other studies have found higher invasive species abundance and shifts towards salt tolerant species,” she says. “Surprisingly, we did not see strong shifts in the vegetation even where we observe elevated salinity in the roadside. We saw that invasive species might have a competitive advantage near the road edge and we’re unsure if that was road salt-induced.”

    To get a better idea of potential salinity thresholds, the researchers looked at the seed bank — dormant seeds in the soil waiting for optimal germination conditions. They collected soil from a nearby forested wetland and exposed the banked seeds to different salinities to study seedling emergence under varying conditions.

    “We found increased salinity reduces numbers of seeds germinating, the seeding density coming out of the soil was lower, and the diversity of species coming up was reduced,” Lawrence says, “suggesting that there might be some plants that are more tolerant and more capable of germinating under higher salinity conditions.”

    Fortunately, Lawrence says these experimental salinity levels are higher than field conditions which are currently not salty enough to elicit a strong response.

    “If high rates of road salt continue to be applied, we certainly could surpass that threshold and see strong changes in the vegetation in the future.”

    A Sodium-lowering Solution

    Mike Dietz, an Extension educator and faculty member in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, is working to address high salt application rates. His research also monitors salinity levels around UConn Storrs, and he says the best time to revise application rates is now.

    “From some of the monitoring that we have here on campus with Eagle Brook, once we implemented Green Snow Pro training, given by UConn’s T2 Center, application rates were greatly reduced, over the course of two years, we started to see salt concentrations in the stream come down,” Dietz says. “In Connecticut we have this ‘glacial till’ soil that the water moves through very slowly. For example, for water to travel from Storrs Hall to Swan Lake, it takes around 10 months, so it really is a delayed response as we reduce the application rates. It is going to be a year to two years before we see a drop.”

    Major hurdles include social factors and expectations, which Dietz says is a largely un-examined issue.

    “It’s a big issue. In the 1980s and 1990s, we saw a steep increase in road salt application rates. I think that is when expectations started to change. Whereas previously people would just stay at home after a winter storm, now everybody’s got to get out and get to work. There’s a lot to be considered there,” he says.

    Dietz says this issue is getting the attention of state legislators after a road salt bill was proposed in 2021. Dietz and a state-wide chloride workgroup is now working with legislators to craft the best bill possible for the upcoming session. The bill would require private contractors to take the Green Snow Pro training, which Dietz says would be a step in the right direction.

    “In New Hampshire about 50% of the salt load that goes down is on private properties,” he says. “Having the liability relief for contractors and property owners that go through this training would be huge, and would really make a difference in the amount of salt that gets applied in Connecticut.”

    Robbins, a professor in the Department of Geosciences, agrees that this issue needs to be addressed, and says road salt contamination of groundwater is one of the biggest problems stemming from the overuse of road salt.

    “We are not slowing down how much salt is applied,” he says. “The salt gets into the groundwater where elevated concentrations persist even in the summer. It could take a very, very long time for that salt to get out. We have done a lot of groundwater monitoring for salt over the years, and found that the salt concentration has been increasing, on average over ten times natural levels.”

    Everyone can do their part to reduce salt use at home, as there are alternatives to dumping salt, says Dietz. Plowing or shoveling driveways and sidewalks will allow the sun to heat the surfaces and melt the snow and ice. It’s also important to ensure the meltwater can drain away, so it doesn’t later re-freeze on the surface. Dietz has had luck with this method, and says he doesn’t need to use any salt at his own home. If you do use salt, just make sure you don’t overdo it, he says.



  • 10 Jan 2022 4:16 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salt threatens Michigan lakes and rivers. Can an alternative take hold? (michiganradio.org)

    Road salt is threatening the Great Lakes’ famous fresh waters and creating even bigger problems for the inland rivers, lakes and aquifers – not to mention your car’s undercarriage.

    But decades of experiments with other options, from beet- and corn-based deicers to sand and chemical mixes, have yet to yield an alternative that’s anywhere near as effective and affordable.

    “It’s far cheaper than anything else out there, and it works far better,” said Craig Bryson, spokesperson for the Road Commission for Oakland County, which maintains Michigan’s largest county road system.

    As much as his agency cares about the environmental impacts of road salt, slippery roads are a major winter crash hazard, and “human life has to be the single highest priority in our decision matrix.”

    Scientists and lawmakers have long worried about the environmental costs of the rock salt mined from underground caverns (like this one in Detroit) and then spread over roadways to keep snow and ice at bay.

    Just one measure: Last month, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University released results of a study revealing that society’s reliance on rock salt is salinating Lake Michigan.

    As Michigan endures another icy winter, state and local road officials say the most realistic remedy to Michigan’s salt pollution problem is simply using less. And a pilot program to replace solid rock salt with a liquid salt brine is helping them do just that.

    Turning rivers saline

    In Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin and MSU researchers found, concentrations of chloride (an element in salt) have increased dramatically since the 1800s, from 1-2 milligrams per liter of water to 15.

    And salt concentrations are creeping upward by another milligram every couple of years, thanks to million metric tons of chloride that make their way into the lake after dissolved salt seeps into the region’s rivers.

    That’s still well below the hundreds of milligrams known to sully drinking water supplies and imperil freshwater species. But even small increases can trigger unknown ecosystem changes and secondary effects such as drinking water pipe corrosion, said Hilary Dugan, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and lead author of the study.

    Lake Michigan is still “extremely fresh” water, Dugan said. “There’s no cause for alarm. But I think people should be aware that it is rising and that is fully because of human-derived salts.”

    More immediately dire are the dramatic impacts salt can have on inland lakes and streams, particularly those near roads that are heavily salted throughout the winter and early spring.

    Some rivers get such intense salt shocks, Dugan said their salinity can mimic ocean water at times. The sudden change can release heavy metals from the riverbed and harm fish and wildlife.

    Salt has so altered the chemistry of some inland lakes, their water has ceased to mix. Instead, the dense salt-laden water settles to the bottom, creating oxygen-scarce dead zones. Many North American lakes are in danger of becoming so salty over the next 50 years, they’ll surpass federal chloride standards.

    Road salt can also taint groundwater, forcing residents to dig new wells, and damage crops.

    “When you put salt on your driveway or sidewalk, in the springtime, you might notice dead grass on the side,” said Mark Geib, administrator for the Michigan Department of Transportation’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations Division. “That’s because it kills the grass.”

    Beets are a bust. But what about brine? 

    For now, many road crews are focused on using less salt, rather than using some other substance.

    In Oakland County, Bryson said supplementing solid rock salt with a liquid salt brine has helped the agency reduce its annual salt usage from about 85,000 tons a year in the early 2000s to 63,000 tons today.

    Technological improvements have helped too, he said, including computerized systems that ration salt to prevent overspreading. And simply training drivers to resist “cranking it up full-bore” has made a difference in the department’s salt use, he said.

    The naturally-occurring brine is also cheap, he said, costing the county only the price of electricity to pump it to the surface.

    The Michigan Department of Transportation is also experimenting with a brine made by mixing rock salt with water to create a 23% salt solution, Geib said. A pilot project last year in Montcalm County cut down on salt costs by about 20%, Geib said, and worked so well it’s now being expanded to Grand Ledge and Mt. Pleasant.

    For a state agency that spends between $25 million and $30 million to purchase 450,000 tons of salt annually, using less is a cost-cutting measure as much as an environmental move. Experiments in other states have helped road crews use up to 40% less salt.

    And what’s good for the agency’s pocketbook also does less damage to the environment: A 2019 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology showed that using brine decreased chloride runoff into streams by 45%.

    Within 10 years, Geib predicted, MDOT could be using brine instead of salt on most Michigan highways.

    There are other effective alternatives out there. But they can be orders of magnitude more expensive than salt. The calcium magnesium acetate that’s used on the Zilwaukee Bridge to prevent corrosion on the bridge, for example, is 50 times more expensive.

    Other options, such as heated roads, show promise but are currently too cost-prohibitive to use on a broad scale. And simply leaving some roads snow-covered, as is the practice in parts of the U.P., wouldn’t fly in more heavily-populated parts of Michigan, said Bryson of Oakland County.

    “People expect to be able to get to work in rush hour on days when there's a massive snowstorm, in the same amount of time that they can in the middle of summer,” he said. “And if they can’t, we hear about it.”

  • 08 Jan 2022 11:28 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road Salt Works. But It’s Also Bad for the Environment. - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

    The chemical is effective at keeping roads free of snow and ice, but it also has damaging consequences, according to a growing body of research.

    As snowstorms sweep the East Coast of the United States this week, transportation officials have deployed a go-to solution for keeping winter roads clear: salt.

    But while pouring tons of salt on roads makes winter driving safer, it also has damaging environmental and health consequences, according to a growing body of research.

    As snow and ice melt on roads, the salt washes into soil, lakes and streams, in some cases contaminating drinking water reservoirs and wells. It has killed or endangered wildlife in freshwater ecosystems, with high chloride levels toxic to fish, bugs and amphibians, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

    “It’s an issue that requires attention now,” said Bill Hintz, an assistant professor in the environmental sciences department at the University of Toledo and the lead author of a recent research review published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

    “There’s plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that freshwater ecosystems are being contaminated by salt from the use of things like road salt beyond the concentration which is safe for freshwater organisms and for human consumption,” Dr. Hintz said.

    Road salt is an environmental pollutant.

    Salt has been used to de-ice roads in the United States since the 1930s, and its use across the country has tripled in the past 50 years, Dr. Hintz said. More than 20 million metric tons of salt are poured on U.S. roads each winter, according to an estimate by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York, and the environmental costs are growing.

    Still, little has been done to address the environmental impact of road salt because it is cheap and effective, said Victoria Kelly, the environmental programming manager at the Cary Institute. By lowering the freezing temperature of water, salt prevents snow from turning to ice and melts ice that is already there.

    Road salt is made from sodium chloride, the same chemical found in table salt. Of all salt consumed in the United States, about 43 percent is used for highway de-icing, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in 2020.

    The consequences of insufficiently salting roads were seen this week, when hundreds of drivers were stranded by a snowstorm on Interstate 95 in Virginia. Officials said the storm began with rain, which washed away road salt and made it difficult to keep roads clear. More snow fell in the Mid-Atlantic States and the Northeast on Friday.

    But environmentalists say the problems associated with road salt are getting harder to ignore. Ms. Kelly said the accumulation of salt in drinking water reservoirs in some places was harming people on low-sodium diets.

    A 2018 study of wells in Dutchess County, N.Y., found that sodium concentration in wells reached levels as high as 860 milligrams per liter — much higher than the federal and state recommendation that levels not exceed 20 milligrams per liter for people on very low-sodium diets and 270 milligrams per liter for people on moderately restricted sodium diets.

    A separate 2018 study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology showed that 24 percent of private drinking wells in New York were contaminated with salt that had been used on roads. About 15 percent of people in the United States get their water from private ground wells, while the rest rely on community water systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    More counties and states are rethinking the amount of salt they use because of the associated costs. Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York announced appointments to the Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force, established to review road-salt contamination.

    “I have no doubt that this group of individuals will work tirelessly to protect our state from the adverse effects of road salt,” Ms. Hochul said. “We look forward to seeing this group finally convene and make progress in preventing further pollution to our waterways and our environment.”

    There are consequences for wildlife, too. Dr. Hintz said his review showed that elevated salinity levels in freshwater ecosystems had already caused a reduction in the abundance and growth of freshwater organisms and a reduction in their reproduction outputs.

    Road salt also corrodes vehicles and bridges, causing $5 billion in annual repairs in the United States, according to an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency. AAA suggests drivers wash and clean their vehicles regularly during winter to help offset the effects of road salt and to limit driving when salt and other de-icing chemicals are at their highest concentrations.

    In Britain, the Salt Association said that salt was the cheapest form of de-icing material and that it had a low environmental impact when used responsibly. “As with all highway maintenance activities, there are environmental implications from winter road maintenance,” the organization said in a statement. “Highways depots, spreading vehicles and the de-icing agent all contribute, but with good management, this burden can be minimized.”

    Alternative methods can mitigate the damage.

    While there is not a perfect solution to the issue, there are alternatives that can significantly reduce salt usage without compromising driver safety.

    One method involves treating roads before storms with a salt brine solution, which can lead to a 75 percent reduction in the amount of salt used while keeping roads just as safe, according to the Cary Institute. Building better salt storage sites can also minimize waste.

    Some counties, like Jefferson County, Wis., have already made changes. Bill Kern, the county’s highway commissioner, said switching to a brine solution had enabled the county to cut its salt use by up to 60 percent since 2018 without an increase in the number of accidents. By using less salt, the county has reduced its overall cost for winter maintenance of state and county highways by 20 percent since 2018, saving about $1.6 million, Mr. Kern said.

    Over the past decade, some states, including Rhode Island, have passed legislation aimed to reduce their use of road salt and have increasingly applied a brine solution to roads in winter, but environmentalists say more needs to be done.

    While engineers have developed better alternatives, they have not been widely implemented in part because they require upfront costs for purchasing equipment, Ms. Kelly said.

    “It’ll save us money, and it’ll help to save our freshwater,” she said, while adding that “because of that legacy effect, it’s going to take a really long time to see the impact of the steps we take.”


  • 06 Jan 2022 7:47 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Ice melting salt is a hot commodity in Prince Rupert | The Star

    Safety salt is a hot commodity in Prince Rupert and residents may find it difficult to locate a bag from suppliers in the city during the ongoing cold snap.

    As of Jan. 5, multiple retailers across town have run out of the ice melting product and some with remaining supplies have limited customers to buying one bag of salt per person.

    “It’s become frustrating for everybody,” Maria Melo, manager at Prince Rupert Home Hardware Building Centre, said.

    The problem seems to be a lack of supply that is being compounded by Prince Rupert’s remote location away from stock, Melo said, adding other winter supplies such as shovels are in good supply, and it is only melting salts they have run out of.

    Orders kind of go by pecking order, due to location, she said. At the end of the day, somebody closer to the warehouse is probably going to get salt before us due to different load-up and delivery dates.

    “So, someone closer might get it before us by the time they hit my order,” she said.

    To be equitable to all customers, Melo placed a limit on customers to one bag each before supplies ran out.

    “It wouldn’t be fair to sell somebody a whole skid and then have the rest of my customers struggling,” she said. “… but most customers are understanding because this is not normal weather for us. It’s a long stretch of super cold and snow.”

    Though Melo has a lot of melting salt on backorder, the product will only be shipped once supplies are available. More salt should arrive by Jan. 10, she said.

    Windsor Salt Ltd., which manufactures the recognizable large 10-kilogram yellow bags of salt is located in Ontario and ships salt to B.C. The Northern View has reached out to the company for comment.

    While residents may be scrambling to snag a bag of salt, the City of Prince Rupert operations team is not experiencing salt supply issues at the moment, Veronika Stewart, communications manager, wrote in an email, so road maintenance can be kept up.

    The Northern View reached out to some retailers in Prince Rupert to confirm the shortage of salt.

    With files from K-J Millar

  • 28 Dec 2021 8:54 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The Environmental Impact of Road Salt and Sustainable Alternatives (greenmatters.com)

    Road salt: although it closely resembles the minerals we use to flavor our food, it couldn't be more different. Road salt is used to maintain the roads in the winter, preventing cars from slipping on snow and ice. It's composed of chloride salts of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. And although it sounds like a natural solution to inclement weather, the environmental impact of road salt is evidently quite high.

    "Consider how easily salt can corrode your car," Joseph Stonberg wrote in Smithsonian Magazine. "Unsurprisingly, it's also a problem for the surrounding environment — so much that in 2004, Canada categorized road salt as a toxin and placed new guidelines on its use."

    "And as more and more of the U.S. becomes urbanized and suburbanized, and as a greater number of roads criss-cross the landscape, the mounting piles of salt we dump on them may be getting to be a bigger problem than ever."

    How does road salt impact the environment?

    Many communities, especially those that receive notable amounts of snow, need road salt in order to survive the winter. Road salt works by combining with water and creating a solution that doesn't freeze, according to Save The Water. It's then scattered along the road each winter, to prevent black ice from forming, which can cause serious, potentially fatal road accidents. Within 25 minutes of being applied, road salt can reduce accidents by up to 85 percent.

    But there are many ecological drawbacks to using road salt. As per the EPA, road salt can contaminate waterways by infiltrating nearby waters such as reservoirs and wells. High levels of salt in drinking water can not only affect people with certain health conditions, but it can also kill fish, bugs, and other wildlife.

    “Salt is something of a ticking time bomb for freshwater,” Riverkeeper President and Earth Institute adjunct professor Paul Gallay stated in a Columbia University report.

    “Studies suggest that the increasing concentrations we see in many places may be the result of road salt spread decades ago, which reached groundwater, and is only now slowly reaching surface waters,” he continued.

    Road salt can also increase soil erosion, which can kill plants and trees. It also damages roadways, buildings, and cars — according to Columbia University, it may cause up to $5 billion in damages in the U.S. per year. Needless to say, it's truly wreaking havoc on our communities and ecosystems.

    Here are eco-safe alternatives to road salt:

    Recently, EcoWatch reported on sustainable road salt alternatives, which could seriously help out communities this winter. In addition to sustainable de-icers, the publication suggests turning to things like alfalfa meal, coffee grounds, sugar beet juice, and grape skin compounds, which all effectively melt ice. Brines, such as pickle juice, can also do the trick.

    Combining those ingredients with increased snow removal (by shoveling, applying heat, or using a snow blower) can definitely lower your chances of a slippery road or driveway. But it's important to transition to these alternatives to lower our impact on a larger scale.



  • 28 Dec 2021 8:53 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    As icy conditions return, City of Ottawa must avoid using too much road salt, environmental advocates insist - Capital Current

    Heavy snowfall, freezing rain, and below-zero temperatures have returned for the winter season, and so has the use of road salt on every street, sidewalk, and pathway. But as icy conditions ramp up, environmental advocates are keeping a close eye on how much road salt the City of Ottawa is using.

    According to Christopher Paquette, the city’s program manager for operational research and projects, Ottawa uses about 185,000 metric tons of salt each year.

    “In order to ensure public safety, the City of Ottawa has a requirement to maintain roads during the winter to a prescribed standard based on provincial regulations,” Paquette stated in an email statement. “A de-icer is required to maintain roads to a bare condition, and the industry’s primary de-icing method is road salt.”

    Matt Fyfe, a scientist with the local environmental organization Ottawa Riverkeeper, describes road salts as a category of mineral — typically sodium chloride — used as a de-icing agent on road and walking paths during the winter.

    But while sodium chloride is essential for improving winter road safety, it can also have detrimental impacts on aquatic wildlife.

    “When water melts, it enters stormwater drains or it can go right into creeks and ditches, and those are habitat for aquatic organisms, micro invertebrates and macro invertebrates, and fish and even some plant species,” Fyfe said. “And all of these groups of organisms have different sensitivities to chloride, which can be toxic at different concentrations.”

    In 2019, Ottawa Riverkeeper began monitoring the levels of sodium chloride in urban streams, creeks, and rivers around the city. Fyfe said the results have shown that Ottawa’s water sources can sometimes reach sodium chloride levels as high as those in oceans. This will be the third year of the monitoring project, and the organization’s volunteers will be keeping an eye on 14 testing sites around the city.

    “Over the course of the winter, almost half of our sites regularly exceed the toxicity threshold,” Fyfe said. “There are some sites in particular, where it’s especially bad. Those are sort of close to big infrastructure projects or next to highways. But even in residential areas, there’s a lot of salt that’s getting into the streams.”

    Salt levels in urban water sources can sometimes be high enough so consistently that the issue is considered chronic, according to Kelsey Scarfone, the policy and campaign manager for conservation at Nature Canada.

    “It’s a very unnatural disturbance that we’re introducing into their habitats,” she said. “It’s causing real problems, especially in the lower levels of the food chain. There’s a lot of really small creatures that are quite sensitive to the salinity of their waters. And, of course, these creatures are adapted to freshwater habitats that they signed up for.”

    The problem, Scarfone said, is that there have so far been no alternatives that can produce the same de-icing effect that makes road salt an essential winter safety tool. While popular products like sand and gravel increase friction, only road salt has been able to break through stubborn ice cover.

    But that doesn’t mean the negative environmental impacts are inevitable.

    “The problem is that we’re using way too much (road salt),” Scarfone said.

    While cities might be worried about liability from slips and falls on their properties, Scarfone argues that reducing salt use “should be a priority” for municipalities, not only because of the environmental impacts, but because of the cost.

    “It’s wreaking havoc in a lot of ways,” she said. “They’re destroying not just shoes, but also infrastructure. It can be quite hard on all of our expensive infrastructure and also on our cars.”

    Scarfone also said that while doing away with road salt entirely probably isn’t an option right now, projects such as Ryerson University’s road salt reduction pilot have seen promising early success.

    In his statement, Paquette said that the city has taken several measures over the years to reduce its road salt use, including developing a detailed salt management plan, and investing in computer controllers for salting trucks to more accurately control the amount of salt spread on roads.

    He added that the city reports its salt usage to the Ministry of Environment annually, and that the municipality intends to review its Salt Management Plan for the third time in the first quarter of 2022.

    “The city is proud to be a leader in salt management,” said Paquette, “and is constantly looking at new products and technologies to increase productivity and minimize the environmental impact of our operations.”

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