Responsible Use of Road Salt Maintains Road Safety and Minimizes Environmental Impact

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) 2006/2007 Annual Report includes a section about the environmental impact of road salt but little is said about responsible use and feasible alternatives for keeping Ontario's roads safe.

Winter storms cause accidents, impede emergency vehicles and school buses, and negatively affect the economy. In addition, climate change has resulted in more frequent freeze/thaw cycles, requiring more frequent salt applications in many areas. "Yes, road salt used in excess will have a detrimental impact on the environment but road salt used responsibly also saves lives, reduces property damage, and keeps our economy on the move," says Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA) president, Jim Harrison. "There are no completely benign alternatives to sodium chloride currently available but improved salt management practices can minimize the negative impacts of salt while keeping the roads safe," says Mr. Harrison.

The Sierra Defence Fund (on behalf of the environmental group Riversides Stewardship Alliance) submitted an application to the Ministry of Environment for a review of the Environmental Protection Act. They requested that Regulation 339 be revoked and replaced with a phased-in mandatory road salts management regime under the EPA. This would, in effect, remove the exemption that road salt now has under the EPA and would require municipalities to obtain certificates of approval prior to being able to use road salt.

"Environment Canada spent eight years reviewing the use of road salt, developing the national Code of Practice for the Environmental Management of Road Salts and promoting the voluntary adoption of the Code by road safety organizations" says Joe Tiernay, OGRA executive director. "145 Ontario municipalities voluntarily developed Salt Management Plans and 135 report annually to Environment Canada on salt usage and winter maintenance practices - an overwhelmingly positive response," says Mr. Tiernay.

In addition to Salt Management Plans, municipalities have changed how they store and apply salt to mitigate harmful effects. "Salt is being covered and stored on impermeable pads and works yard runoff is controlled to prevent entry into surface water. Water from washing the vehicles is also filtered and controlled to prevent entry into surface water," says Joe Tiernay. "In terms of application, pre-wetting prevents the loss of 30% of salt applied and is more effective. Technology to measure pavement and weather conditions controls the application of salt to only when and where it is needed. Direct liquid application before a winter event uses 1/3 less salt and allows plows to reach bare pavement conditions much faster by preventing the bond of ice to the pavement. Live snow fences are also being used in a number of municipalities."

Education and training is another tool for responsible salt use. "OGRA has trained more than 1000 front line operators, supervisors and patrollers in advanced winter maintenance practices, and through train-the-trainer session, we have reached more than 5000 municipal employees and contractors," says Jim Harrison. "For now, the use of road salt must continue to maintain our roads responsibly and effectively. But municipalities are also doing what they can to protect the environment."

The Ontario Good Roads Association represents the infrastructure interests of municipalities through advocacy, consultation, training and the delivery of identified services. OGRA currently serves 422 municipal members and 21 First Nations communities. Visit for more information.

Source: Ontario Good Roads Association

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