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  • 10 Feb 2024 3:19 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Research finds sidewalk salt is killing salmon. How can cities de-ice safely? (ubyssey.ca)

    In the January cold snap, the Lower Mainland leaped into action to clear the roads using salt, sand and snow plows. As the snow melted into the gutters though, it carried the salt with it.

    It trickled into streams where Coho salmon were hatching from their eggs. The tiny salmon, or alevins, hide in the gravel near their nests (called redds), feeding off of their round orange yolk sacs.

    For young salmon, road salt runoff can be deadly. A research project is using citizen science to monitor the impacts of road salting on freshwater fish in 30 streams in the Lower Mainland.

    Provincial guidelines set allowable salt levels for salmon, but they aren’t regularly monitored or enforced.

    Although the project is only in year two of a five year study, UBC zoology professor Dr. Patricia Dr. Patricia Shulte said the results so far are concerning.

    “There's a lot of salt getting into streams when we salt the roads, and the streams very frequently exceed acute guidelines,” said Schulte, who is also a a Canada Research Chair in Responses of Fish to a Changing Environment. “Our data so far suggests that the answer is yes, that these levels are high enough to harm salmon, especially if the pulses occur at particularly sensitive stages.”

    The study is a collaboration between staff from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, UBC, SFU, BCIT and the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation. They’re taking their data to cities in the Lower Mainland to discuss how to minimize road salt use.

    Volunteers measure streams’ salt content using bluetooth conductivity loggers, which measure the concentration of electricity-conducive salt ions. The data then goes to a public website that researchers and concerned citizens can monitor.

    When Vancouver freezes in January and February, the road salt run-off coincides with Coho salmon and rainbow trout hatching.

    According to Schulte, the salt is killing fish. The next step is figuring out exactly how the salt is harming them, and why it harms some more than others.

    Fish maintain balance between water and salt concentrations through a process called osmoregulation.

    “At the time they're hatching, there's so many other demands on [their] body that [they] just don't have the energy to osmoregulate properly, and that's what's killing them,” said Schulte. “Or, that’s the hypothesis we’re testing.”

    Road salt use rising

    In Canada, the amount of road salt has been increasing by 2.5 per cent each year for the past decade.

    “The data does clearly show that the use of road salt is increasing over time, which probably has to do with more severe winter weather,” said Schulte.

    While climate change is usually associated with warmer temperatures, some scientists theorize that the warming Arctic is disrupting the polar vortex and allowing cold weather systems to escape. This could contribute to cold snaps like the West Coast saw in January. While we can generally expect warmer winters going forward, we can also expect more unusual freeze events — requiring proactive and sustainable strategies to safely de-ice streets.

    Vancouver allocates 3,000 tons of salt each winter — although the city aims to limit use, and encourages people to avoid salting their private property when possible.

    Since campus isn't part of Vancouver, UBC Facilities has their own salt stash: "160 tonnes of road salt, 80 tonnes of salt/sand combo, 80 tonnes of sand, 500 bags of de-icing salt" and more, according to UBC Director of Municipal Services Jenniffer Sheel.

    Starting at 4 a.m. on snow days, the de-icing team focuses on high-priority areas like medical clinics, childcare facilities and academic buildings to clear important sidewalks while trying to minimize salt use.

    “The cities around here already have this on their radar as something that they should be doing,” said Schulte. “It’s just a matter of the best way to do it.”

    The timing of road salt application is also important. Road salt only works when applied before the road ices over, as it lowers the freezing temperature of water.

    "We apply preventative measures based on weather conditions (precipitation, temperature and wind) and where possible reduce our salt use with brine applications or a combination of salt/sand," wrote Sheel in an email to The Ubyssey. "Our priority is public safety and we have found salt to be the most effective application when we are battling ice."

    Channels by the side of the road, called bioswales (like those on 16th Ave near campus), can also use plants and landscaping to absorb runoff before it enters the water system.

    One of Schulte’s recommendations is to salt less, and only where it's most needed.

    “It's unlikely that we’ll entirely stop using road salt because it's very important for safety, but we want to provide the data to show that we should be careful with how we use it.”

  • 09 Feb 2024 9:25 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Western researchers study winter road salt and its impact - Western News (westernu.ca)

    The crunch of salt underfoot and the stain on your winter boots is all part of a typical Canadian winter. But what if there was a way to make it better for the Earth, the asphalt and the cars or bikes travelling over it? 

    Western researchers are studying nine varieties of winter road salt and its corrosive effects on six different types of metals. They’ll investigate how the different salts help or harm icy roads, infrastructure and the environment.  

    Yolanda Hedberg

    Yolanda Hedberg, Canada Research Chair in Corrosion Science (Håkan Lindgren photo)

    The study, jointly led by chemistry professor Yolanda Hedberg and engineering professor Chris Power, is in its second year. It has garnered attention on Western’s campus this winter, thanks to a cordoned-off area near the chemistry building on Perth Drive where samples of steel are sprayed with various salt brines once a week.  

    “Salt is not sustainable. We are basically turning our Great Lakes into oceans if we continue this way. We are completely changing the ecosystem with the use of salt,” Hedberg said. 

    The team is examining a range of different salts – from sodium chloride, the kind we use on food, to magnesium chloride to pure sodium acetate – to determine which ones perform best melting snow and ice or providing traction. At the same time, they’re measuring the effects on soil, roads and different metals used in cars, bikes and assets like bridges. 

    Metal sample road salt study

    A metal sample corroded by the salt brines being tested by Western researchers. (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications photo)

    Western researchers are working with Facilities Management and a private company testing an organic road salt in hopes it will be less damaging. 

    “It’s a big interest-generating problem because it’s so relevant, and so applied,” Hedberg said.  

    That interest is apparent among university staff and faculty. Western’s campus is carefully maintained in the winter by a team of 17 university staff and additional contractors in the worst of the season. 

    Western Facilities are partners. They gave us the salt used on campus, a lot of expertise and signage, and they help us to perform the salt spreading on Perth Drive at night. It’s quite a committed team,” Hedberg said. 

     

    Salt is a ‘tool in the toolbox’

    Looking for innovative ways to evolve winter maintenance strategies is always top of mind for the Facilities Management team, said landscape services manager Mike Lunau. All but a few of the staff involved have extensive training on the science of snow and ice management, beyond a typical industry level, he said. 

    Mike Lunau, manager, Landscape Services

    Mike Lunau, manager, Landscape Services (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications photo)

    “We take our role as stewards of the facilities on campus, including its natural environments, very seriously,” Lunau said. “The connected nature of campus and the impact on the Thames River ecosystem is not lost on myself or any of my team. Any opportunity we have to engage in research to support that, to optimize our use of anti-icing and de-icing products, it’s always great to take those opportunities.” 

    Western’s team uses a combination of treated and untreated salts to better target various temperature ranges over a winter. The goal is always to use the least amount of salt and employ it alongside other options to keep the campus clear and safe. 

    “We think about timing. We use salt as a tool in that toolbox, to prevent bonding of snow and ice to surfaces, so we can mechanically clear (the roads and pathways) and use less salt,” Lunau said. 

    As technologies advance, it’s also becoming more realistic and achievement to use products that have fewer effects on the environment or infrastructure. Lunau’s team is examining new options – such as using liquids, essentially salt brines with a lower chloride content – and strategies that may better protect the environment while still offering a fiscally responsible approach. 

    The tide is changing for many institutions and players, he said. 

    “The industry as a whole is aware of and conscious of the environmental impacts. There are many really advocating and pushing the boundaries of technologies and material sciences.” 

     

    Sustainability work extends to winter maintenance 

    The road salt study is now one of the projects under Western’s Campus as a Living Lab initiative, which merges academics and the university’s commitment to sustainability by bringing together faculty, staff and students to do research right on campus.  

    A new internal grant, the Western Sustainable Impact Fund, also provided funding for the road salt research.  

    Robert Addai, a PhD candidate in chemistry supervised by Hedberg, said the research is about comparing today’s costs – both financial and environmental – to those over the long term. 

    “We know Canada uses a lot of sodium chloride because it is cheap. We don’t take into consideration the side effects, the future costs, we only think about now. This is why we want to analyze sodium chloride compared to other salts, to see which one will benefit us today and tomorrow,” Addai said. 

    Balancing effectiveness, impact and cost is the goal, both for researchers and those tossing the salt.  

    For Addai, it’s simply part of the scientific equation. 

    “Like we say, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For us, we are trying to keep the snow away from the road. But the salt can also corrode metal, it melts into the waterbodies. As scientists, we always do a risk assessment. With every product, we consider, ‘How much is this helping and how much is this harming the society?’” – Robert Addai, PhD candidate in chemistry

    This study is very important because at the end of the day we want to find a type of salt that is beneficial for pedestrians and cars, and also helps melt the snow. We must consider the environmental impact on grasses, plants and animals as we are checking the cost.” 

    Hedberg, who is also an engineer, lived in Sweden for more than a decade, where she worked part-time as a politician in a suburb of Stockholm. She provided scientific knowledge to the technical committee responsible for winter maintenance and bike lanes, saying it was rewarding to “contribute to democracy and the community.” 

    There, she saw other ideas for snow clearing, such as the Swedish approach of clearing sidewalks, cycling and bus lanes first, before roads. In her home country of Germany, property owners are prohibited from putting salt on their own stairs, with stiff penalties and fines for those flouting the rules, thanks to the potential for structural damage. 

    “It’s quite fascinating to see how other countries address this,” Hedberg said. 

    The current project wraps up this year, but there is interest in partnering next with a municipality, applying the research findings across an entire community.  

    “We hope our results can convince municipalities this can be done (using alternative salts),” Hedberg said. 

  • 06 Feb 2024 3:58 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Road salt: Protecting China’s drivers, but at what cost? (chinadialogue.net)

    Salting roads can make winter driving safer, but its corrosive impacts on roads and human health need addressing

    <p>Road salts can contaminate drinking water sources and harm animal and plant life (Image: Alamy)</p>

    Road salts can contaminate drinking water sources and harm animal and plant life (Image: Alamy)

    In January, potholes began appearing on Dalian’s roads after heavy snowfalls. Residents of the north-eastern Chinese city even reported hearing their chassis strike the highway.

    The local government admitted that widespread use of road salts for snow clearance is a cause of the damage.

    Road salts – usually called “snowmelt agents” in China – prevent ice forming on the road by lowering the freezing point of water. Pure water becomes ice at 0C, but when combined with salt, this threshold can drop to around -10C.

    Sprinkling salt on roads is a common practice in colder climates. It’s estimated that globally over 66 million tonnes are used for de-icing every year.

    The use of chloride salts on roads has long been controversial because of their well-documented impacts on the environment, ecology and human health.

    While environmentally friendly alternatives remain elusive, experts suggest seeking ways to reduce salt use, such as through more efficient spreading methods.

    Environmental and health hazards

    Potassium acetate and chloride salts are the most common snowmelt agents. While potassium acetate is an effective de-icer and causes less corrosion, its high cost means it is generally only used on airport runways.

    Chloride salts (such as sodium, calcium, and magnesium chlorides) are almost one-tenth the cost, and are tend to be used on regular roads. But their corrosive effect on cars and roads is a major problem. As an example, Beijing’s Xizhimen overpass, which opened 20 years ago, has already experienced severe concrete spalling and steel corrosion partly because of chloride salts.

    Cars and safety are also impacted: chloride ions damage the external protective layer of metal components in car chassis and accelerate tyre ageing. In China, from 2005 to 2020, car companies recalled and repaired 430,000 vehicles due to chloride salt corrosion.

    Moreover, chloride salts increase the salt concentration of water sources and soil. This affects the growth of roadside plants, and can even lead to their wilting and death. For instance, in Beijing in 2005, over 11,000 street trees, 1.49 million shrubs and almost 200,000 square metres of grass suffered severe salt damage or death, resulting in direct economic losses of more than 30 million yuan (US$4.2 million). Salt concentrations in residual roadside snow and surrounding soil were found to be 392 times higher than normal.

    As early as 2006, China’s central government published the “Technical specifications for snow removal operations on city roads”. It stipulated that snowmelt agents should be kept within 1 metre of roadside verges that contain plants. Rather than being piled into tree pits or onto grass, ice and snow that had been exposed to such agents should be transported and treated separately, the document stated.

    Yet in practice these regulations have been poorly implemented. In 2022, the media reported the death of roadside plane trees in Beijing on a large scale. Professor Liu Yong, of the College of Forestry at Beijing Forestry University, explained that the trees died of desiccation after absorbing snow – and snowmelt agents – pushed onto their roots by roadsweepers.

    Snowmelt agents can also harm the health of humans and other animals. As snow and ice contaminated with chloride salt melts, the salt can wash into the surrounding soil, as well as lakes and streams, possibly contaminating reservoirs and drinking water wells. High sodium levels in drinking water can negatively affect people with high blood pressure, while high chloride levels in surface water are toxic to certain types of fish, insects and amphibians, states the US Environmental Protection Agency.

    Chinese state media CCTV reported that, after the devastating winter storms of 2008, residents of villages along the Beijing–Zhuhai expressway reported issues with drinking water quality, with some experiencing fever, vomiting and other symptoms. Investigations identified the cause as heavy use of snowmelt agents on the expressway, with excessive chloride ions entering the nearby spring that supplies the area’s reservoir.

    China Dialogue spoke to Victoria Kelly, Environmental Monitoring Program manager at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. She explained that chloride salts have long been employed as snowmelt agents. Their use in the US can be traced back to the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that scientists discovered their presence in rivers, lakes and groundwater, and began to discuss their effect on the environment. To date, thousands of scientific papers have been published on the impact of chloride salts on bodies of water, organisms and ecosystems, and a growing number of researchers are calling on policymakers to reduce their use, said Kelly.

    Can chloride salts be replaced?

    Despite growing awareness of the harmful environmental and health effects of sodium chloride salts, their “sheer cost-effectiveness has led to their ongoing widespread use”, Kelly said.

    In China, there are no definitive statistics on chloride salt usage on roads. In the US, Kelly said that while national-level data is available, there are gaps in data at the local level. She believes that governments around the world need to strengthen monitoring of chloride salt usage on roads and publicly disclose usage data.

    In the meantime, there have been efforts in China to minimise harm from snowmelt agents. Over the last decade or so, some cities have been raising standards on their composition, as well as promoting what they deem to be environmentally friendly alternatives on a small scale.

    The standard is a recommendation rather than mandatory. In practice, each province and city has introduced its own requirements for “environmentally friendly” snowmelt agents. For example, Shenyang City proposed the optimal ratio of sodium, calcium and magnesium chlorides in chloride agents as 4:3:3, while Jilin City requires the entire municipality to use “environmentally friendly” non-chloride salt agents.

    In 2002, Beijing enacted China’s first local standard for “environmentally friendly” snowmelt agents, stipulating that salt sold for use on Beijing’s roads must be less than 50% as corrosive as pure sodium chloride. Since the 1970s, snow and ice had been removed from Beijing’s roads by spraying salt water, that is, pure sodium chloride in liquid form. After the introduction of the standard, 14 types of calcium chloride and magnesium chloride agents replaced this more-damaging salt water.

    Treating roads with a salt solution prior to a snowstorm can reduce salt use by 75%

    However, these replacements are still chloride salts. They can harm soil and greenery, and their environmental protection credentials have been questioned. In 2017, the country updated the 2002 standard with a new edition clearly dividing agents into chloride and non-chloride. It stipulated that the chlorine content of non-chloride organic agents must not exceed 1%.

    In 2015, some districts in Beijing began promoting snowmelt agents made from fermented straw, claiming they are less corrosive than common snowmelt agents on asphalt pavements and bridges, while also protecting roadside vegetation.

    Kelly said she was unable to comment on whether straw agents were an effective solution but observed that, generally speaking, it was difficult to find truly “environmentally friendly” agents.

    Some food-based alternatives have been attempted elsewhere. In Canada, the city of Calgary and some parts of British Columbia have been experimenting with beetroot juice. While the US state of Wisconsin is spreading cheese brine on its roads. But these agricultural by-products are often more expensive and carry their own environmental dangers. Beetroot juice, for example, can disrupt the nutritional balance of wetlands when it enters water bodies.

    Reduce salts and adopt alternatives

    Before novel snowmelt agents with clear environmental advantages and low production costs are developed, chloride salts will continue to be used on roads. Many researchers have therefore been exploring how to minimise the quantity used while still ensuring driver safety.

    China’s “Technical specifications” regulate the quantity of snowmelt agent that can be spread. When a snowfall event does not exceed 10mm, the amount used must not exceed 10 grams per square metre. This is the basis on which northern provinces have adopted further measures to reduce usage, scope and duration of snowmelt agents.

    Harbin carefully re-categorised its 2,453 roads, restricting snowmelt agents to sloping roads and important traffic intersections. In Shenyang, 29 roads were selected for purely mechanical snow removal.

    Snow plow trucks clear snowy road with heavy traffic

    Snow plow trucks clear the road during a winter storm in Harbin, 2023. Due to environmental concerns, the city has restricted snowmelt agents to sloped roads and major intersections. (Image: Alamy)

    The Shenyang municipal administration told the media in 2011 that the most important thing is to only use road salts where it is demonstrably needed. The second is to use environmentally friendly agents wherever possible, and the third is to use more mechanical and manual means of snow removal.

    When presented with these cities’ approaches, Kelly agreed with them. She also highlighted Cary Institute reports indicating that treating roads with a salt solution prior to a snowstorm can reduce salt use by 75%.

    Striking the right balance between ensuring road safety in winter and protecting roadside vegetation, groundwater and human health requires coordination across multiple sectors, Kelly noted. It also needs a shift in public perception towards accepting reduced salt use, or salt alternatives, as still safe, she said. “The important thing is that governments communicate with the public about the environmental impacts as well as the road safety issues of road salt.”

  • 06 Feb 2024 3:57 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Ottawa road salt: Riverkeeper urges residents to cut down on salt use | CTV News

    Salt is a common sight on roads, sidewalks and stairs in Ottawa every winter, but the Ottawa Riverkeeper is urging residents to cut back on their use of road salt because of the effect it has on rivers and streams.

    The Riverkeeper monitored 30 streams over the last four years and said that 90 per cent of those sites routinely saw levels of contamination from salt that can cause harm to freshwater species.

    "What we're finding, through five winters of monitoring for chloride levels, is that they are shockingly high," Ottawa Riverkeeper CEO Laura Reinsborough told CTV News at Noon.

    "We're testing creeks and streams in Ottawa and Gatineau and over 90 per cent of those that we're testing are having acute and chronic toxicity. We know that road salt can be toxic when it reaches water and if it gets to that high level, it causes problems for all of the aquatic organisms."

    Reinsborough said monitoring has found an amount of salt that is 200 times the acceptable level in some waterways.

    "We also studied the levels into the summer and they stayed high," she said. "The chloride ions from the road salt will actually embed in the mud and they'll stay there."

    Reinsborough says salt is often overused in the winter.

    According to the Ottawa Riverkeeper's website, using salt for traction is wrong.

    "Salt is not intended for grit or traction. If you are spreading more and more salt, without waiting for it to dissolve, so that you can walk on the crystals and have a grip on the ice, you are using salt incorrectly," the Riverkeeper says. "Instead, reach for a product like sand or gravel to provide a layer of traction between your boot and the ice. Plus, at the end of the season, you can sweep up the remaining gravel and use it again the following year, saving money and helping the environment."

    Salt also stops working to dissolve ice once it gets colder than -10 C.

    One of the best tips, Reinsborough says, is to simply use less salt.

    "Think about a two-car wide driveway. One coffee mug of road salt is enough for that entire surface area," she said.

    "For each square metre of surface area, you only need two tablespoons of salt. Put another way, that’s roughly eight tablespoons of salt per standard sidewalk square in the City of Ottawa," the Riverkeeper's website says.

    The Riverkeeper says excessive road salt use is a solvable problem.

    "While municipalities and private companies need to tackle this issue at a large scale, there is much you can do as an individual to reduce road salt use," it says.

    RELATED IMAGES

    A man spreads salt on a sidewalk in downtown Ottawa in this file photo. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

    A man spreads salt on a sidewalk in downtown Ottawa in this file photo. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE


  • 05 Feb 2024 9:06 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The unforeseen consequences of UTM’s road salt reduction - The Medium

    The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) prides itself on its efforts to foster environmental sustainability on campus. Each year, the school takes incremental, yet powerful steps toward a greener future. Unfortunately, this winter, UTM students aren’t so pleased with some of the university’s “sustainable” choices. 

    Here in Canada, crunchy white-and-blue salt on sidewalks, roads, ramps, and staircases is a sign that winter doth approach to plunge us into four to six months of dismal darkness. In Southwestern Ontario, as winter begins, the temperature rapidly dips above and below zero degrees Celsius, resulting in the freezing, melting, and subsequent refreezing of precipitation. Due to this cycle, walking surfaces are covered by layers of ice, some of which are virtually invisible. Luckily, road salt provides us with traction on these slippery surfaces and melts away ice quickly. 

    Unfortunately, this frequent use of road salt can be environmentally problematic. Not only does it cause discomfort by getting in between your dog’s widdle toesies, but the salt can also seep into bodies of water, making the fish taste way too salty. It is because of these environmental tolls that UTM took the initiative to reduce road salt use on campus by a whopping 80 per cent during the winter of 2022/2023. This reduction continues this year. 

    By the end of last year’s winter, UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre released data suggesting a massive influx in head injuries among UTM students, specifically those related to blunt-force trauma, like falling and hitting your head. Apparently, the frequency of head injuries among students increased by as much as 80 per cent between the winters of 2022 and 2023. 

    The Medium reached out to a UTM administrative spokesperson to get some answers. When asked what the cause of this strange increase in head injuries could be, the spokesperson replied: “Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what could be causing this issue. Like no idea at all. Maybe go ask someone who cares.” When the spokesperson was asked to step outside for a headshot, he exclaimed: “Are you kidding me? I’m not going out there on all that ice! I’ll crack my head open!” With that, The Medium’s interviewer was ushered out of the room with a scoff from the spokesperson. 

    Without very much guidance from UTM officials, students have begun taking things into their own hands amid this head trauma epidemic. Starting in January of this year, some students took to sliding between classes on their bellies, like penguins. By early February, almost all UTM students had adopted “the penguin technique” and can be found slipping and sliding between classes all together, in great colonies. 

    Oddly enough, the adoption of the penguin technique appears to not only encompass sliding to class on one’s belly, but it also seems to have resulted in a widespread mental snap among students. Students can frequently be seen huddling closely together for warmth at bus stops, stealing hard-boiled eggs from Coleman Commons to sit on during class because it “just feels right,” and diving headfirst into medium-sized bodies of water to “hunt for krill and fish.” Some students have even begun to rapidly molt feathers that they reportedly didn’t even know they had. 

    In early February, an interviewer from The Medium slid over to the office of Principal Alexandra Gillespie, seeking answers about UTM’s recently coined “penguin ‘pocalypse.” Unfortunately, by the time they reached her office, it was already too late. Gillespie was found swallowing minnows whole while relaxing in her office aquarium, feathers scattered across the floor all around her. 

  • 18 Jan 2024 3:46 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Suing over snow removal? Here's what the courts have said about who's responsible | CBC News

    Lawsuits over broken bones from slips on sidewalks have made it all the way to Canada's top court

    A person shovels snow from a sidewalk in West End, Vancouver as heavy snowfall at dusk turned roads slippery on Jan. 4, 2020.

    A person shovels a sidewalk in Vancouver's West End neighbourhood in January 2020. Courts have concluded homeowners cannot be found liable for injuries suffered as a result of them doing a poor job of clearing sidewalks in front of their houses. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

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    On Jan. 6, 2015, Taryn Joy Marchi stepped through a snowbank next to a newly plowed parking spot in downtown Nelson and into a classic Canadian conundrum.

    The ensuing drop injured Marchi's leg badly enough to warrant $1 million in alleged damages.

    The city claimed it had followed its snow removal policies, but could she sue them for a job poorly done?

    Nine years later, the result of that question — a legal battle which made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada — continues to reverberate through the courts as well as the public works departments of cities across the country.

    Especially on snowy days.

    The question of a municipality's 'core policies' 

    In a nutshell, Marchi's case dug into the question of a municipality's "core policies" — decisions shielded from private negligence claims so the courts don't create a "chilling effect" by subjecting all government decisions to legal liability.

    On the day of Marchi's injury, city crews removed snow from roads in Nelson — in the province's southern Interior, about 423 kilometres east of Vancouver and 195 kilometres west of the border with Alberta — but they also cleared a series of angled parking spots in a main thoroughfare, creating a snowbank between street and sidewalk in the process.

    Seeing no obvious way from parking stall to sidewalk, Marchi put her best foot forward — into the snowbank.

    WATCH | Vancouver man helps shovel snowy Vancouver streets: 

    Snow Angel helps shovel snowy Vancouver streets

    1 day ago

    Duration1:00

    D.J. Lawrence, a volunteer with the City of Vancouver's Snow Angels program since 2017, says he got up early this morning to help shovel sidewalks and driveways. The program pairs seniors and people with limited mobility together with neighbours willing to lend a hand to remove snow and ice outside their homes.

    After a trial, a B.C. Supreme Court judge accepted the city's claim that the entire snow removal process was covered by core policy immunity — a decision overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal, which ordered a new trial.

    The city appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada — which sided with Marchi, coming up with a legal test for judges to figure out what counts as a core policy, and what could be considered the kind of "operational implementation" that might be subject to a negligence claim.

    "The City's clearing of snow from the parking stalls ... by creating snowbanks along the sidewalks — thereby inviting members of the public to park in those stalls — without ensuring direct access to sidewalks was not the result of a core policy decision immune from negligence liability," the Supreme Court of Canada decision says.

    "The public interest is not served when ad hoc decisions that fail to balance competing interests or that fail to consider how best to mitigate harms are insulated from liability in negligence."

    WATCH | How to safely shovel: 

    How to shovel and stay safe

    3 days ago

    Duration7:

    Shovelling snow can be good exercise when done correctly. But taking on more than your body can handle or ignoring signs that you need to take a break may prove harmful.

    The decision doesn't mean municipalities have no defence against snow injury lawsuits. But it does force the courts to apply stricter scrutiny if they try to point to their "policies" as a shield from liability.

    "The mere presence of budgetary, financial, or resource implications does not determine whether a decision is core policy," the decision says.

    "Further, the fact that the word 'policy' is found in a written document, or that a plan is labelled as 'policy' may be misleading and is certainly not determinative of the question."

    Duelling responsibilities for homeowners

    The City of Nelson also claimed that it had not breached the "standard of care expected that would be of an ordinary, reasonable and prudent person in the same circumstances."

    But the Supreme Court of Canada judges said a new trial would be needed to determine "factual findings regarding the impact of the evidence from other municipalities on the obligations imposed on the city."

    A woman is pictured holding a shovel amid a snowy park, with stringy bare trees and homes in the far background covered in snow.

    A woman shovels snow during a period of heavy snowfall in Surrey, B.C., on Jan. 17, 2024. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

    B.C.'s Appeal Court has also looked at the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians, homeowners and governments in another key case which emerged from a sidewalk slip.

    In 2021, B.C.'s top court decided against a lawsuit filed by a Burnaby man who claimed damages against a couple whom he alleged had done a poor job of cleaning the sidewalk in front of their home, where he fell on black ice.

    That case came down to duelling responsibilities for homeowners.

    On the one hand, the court said they are bound by civil bylaws to clear sidewalks.

    But as the judge who heard the case in the lower court pointed out, 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."

    The good neighbour principle

    Underlying all these cases is another key legal principle concerning what it is to be a good neighbour.

    The so-called neighbour principle was established in 1932 by the British House of Lords in a case involving a decomposed snail at the bottom of a bottle of ginger beer and a very surprised and unhappy customer.

    A snow plow clears and salts Forest Grove Drive in Burnaby, B.C., during a winter storm on Jan. 11, 2024.

    A snow plow clears and salts Forest Grove Drive in Burnaby, B.C., after snowfall on Jan. 11, 2024. A court case involving a woman's snow-related injury dug into the question of a municipality's 'core policies' — decisions shielded from private negligence claims, so the courts don't create a 'chilling effect' by subjecting all government decisions to legal liability. (Jan Zeschky/CBC)

    "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.

    The courts have subsequently concluded that the good neighbour principle can only be extended so far.

    "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 of a Toronto-based snow-clearing case found in 2000.

    "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."


  • 15 Jan 2024 1:47 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Townships track road salt, sand like gold using modern technology - Orillia News (orilliamatters.com)

    Every autumn, Ontario municipalities prepare for winter’s onslaught by buying up thousands of tonnes of sand and salt that will eventually be used to keep roadways and highways clear and free of treacherous ice.

    This winter, Oro-Medonte, Essa and Springwater townships will spend about three quarters of a million dollars, combined, on sand and salt.

    They track it as if it were gold.

    Using modern technology, virtually every ounce of material can be tracked and the efficiency of the sand and salt program can be evaluated at almost any time. Plows are equipped with either a global positioning system (GPS) or an automated vehicle location (AVL) system and electronically controlled spreaders.

    “We use computerized spreader control, which allows us to manage how much material we are putting down and where we are placing it,” said Shawn Binns, director of operations and community services for Oro-Medonte Township. “This helps with ensuring optimum application while meeting our maintenance requirements to ensure the safety of the travelling public.”

    sand-and-salt-for-roads-againScott Thomson, an operations department employee with Oro-Medonte Township, surveys the stockpile of sand in the township's material storage dome in Moonstone. Wayne Doyle/BarrieToday

    According to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, salt spreading helps to melt snow and ice to prevent it from sticking to the highway and makes plowing more effective.

    Sand provides traction on slippery surfaces, especially when it is too cold for salt to be effective, below minus-10 degrees Celsius.

    Salt, an accepted mainstay of road maintenance today, wasn’t used in winter maintenance in Canada until the 1940s.

    Prior to that, sand and small gravel was used to increase traction on snow-covered roads.

    How much salt a municipality uses varies.

    Springwater Township uses a six per cent salt content mixture, according to Scott Haw, manager of roads and fleet, infrastructure and operational services.

    “The township purchased 5,000 tonnes of sand and 300 tonnes of salt which are mixed together in a process called brining,” Haw said.

    Binns says Oro-Medonte uses a mixture that is seven per cent salt content.

    Prior to 2023, Essa Township used a four per cent salt content mixture, but upped the salt content to 10 per cent last year.

    Essa is considering increasing the salt content to 15 per cent in 2025.

    “We’re looking at gradual increases similar to what larger municipalities are doing,” said Michael Mikael, manager of public works/deputy chief administrative officer for Essa Township.

    According to Binns, a typical winter season in Oro-Medonte features about 60 'snow events' that require attention.

    Those events may be post-storm clean-up or preemptive storm maintenance.

    He said that’s the rolling average of the last five years and it’s up from the five year average before that.

    “There’s definitely been less snow, but our main issue has been the temperature,” Binns said. “We’ve been experiencing an increase in freeze-and-thaw cycles and that’s driving our material usage.”

    Haw hasn’t had the same experience. He says sand and salt use in Springwater is down so far this year.

    “If temperatures had been closer to freezing at the end of December, we would have been out more due to freeze-thaw cycles,” Haw said. “However, since temperatures are forecasted to be lower in January, we anticipate our sand and salt usage will increase.

  • 23 Dec 2023 12:26 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    Economic and environmental costs of road salt in Muskoka (muskokaregion.com)

    December arrives and we are planning for how we will adapt to this winter and wondering what kind of a winter we will have. Will it be crisp and cold with plenty of white fluffy snow or wet and rainy with periodic thaws?

    Regardless, we do know it will include road salt — spread on our highways, parking lots, sidewalks and driveways. We all use road salt and benefit from its usage. But we are also increasingly aware of the damage road salt causes. The Muskoka Watershed Council is working to implement integrated watershed management (IWM) in Muskoka. Believe it or not, road salt and IWM are related.

    IWM uses environmental evidence to guide the management actions we take. Our 2023 Watershed Report Card provided clear evidence that existing levels of the chloride from road salt have harmed our lakes, that concentrations are increasing, and that road salt pollution is most serious where we live, build and use roads. Data from the Dorset Environmental Science Centre show that chloride concentrations are near natural levels in the upper watershed at the Big East River and have actually decreased there since 1983. Further downstream in populated areas, however, concentrations have increased. They are now 20 times higher in Lake Muskoka at Bala and approximately 35 times higher in Gravenhurst Bay than they were in 1970. Friends of the Muskoka Watershed has summarized scientific studies, which show that the chloride from road salt is especially harmful in the soft waters of our lakes, such that the federal guideline of 120 milligrams per litre for “safe exposure” of aquatic life does not protect sensitive species here. We should strive to keep our lakes below 10 milligrams per litre as a start, with a long-term goal to minimize any changes.

    We need to continue to use road salt or a less damaging substance to maintain our roads in the winter, but we must also consider the economic and environmental costs of its use. The economic costs are not trivial — Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission cites economic and environmental damages of anywhere between $680 and $3,900 per tonne for the seven million tonnes of road salt we use nationwide each year. IWM offers a way to properly evaluate those competing needs, as it incorporates economic, environmental and social considerations.

    Before we leap to the conclusion that damage caused by use of road salt is a necessary cost for our safety, we should ask ourselves several questions and examine alternative solutions: How much road salt do we really need? Do we overapply, believing this will increase safety? Can we do a better job of measuring road and weather conditions in order to apply “as needed.” Do we really need to maintain our highways for high speeds year round? Could we achieve the same level of safety with mandatory use of winter tires? How much of our taxes are spent on road salt each year in Muskoka and are there cost savings to be had by changing how we manage winter conditions? What can we do at home? How can we get “smart about salt”? Salt is cheap and so we don’t think a lot about how much we use but did you know that it only takes one 20-ounce cup of road salt to clear 10 square metres of sidewalk or a six-metre (20-foot) driveway?

    We can integrate our need to manage winter safety with environmental and economic considerations to better protect our environment and perhaps save money in the process. And we can start by asking these questions of ourselves and of our public servants.

    This is the third in a series of articles from the Muskoka Watershed Council on “The State of Our Watershed.” Each explores environmental issues and management challenges revealed in our 2023 Muskoka Watershed Report Card.

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