Sunday, February 12, 2006

Reduce Salt Use: It's Killing Our Rivers

Recently, Kevin Mercer, a member of Bring Back the Don and head of Riversides Stewardship Alliance, held a press conference with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund calling for the Ontario government and municipalities in southern Ontario to reduce salt use on our winter roads by a minimum of 50%. They believe that road safety standards can be maintained by mandatory use of snow tires and by using better salt spraying techniques such as the use of brine.

In the winter of 2000, in response to a request from RiverSides, Toronto city staff monitored the impact of road salt and snow dumps on its rivers. The Don River significantly exceeded the provincial water quality standard of 250 mg/l for chlorides with results ranging from 1,200 mg/l in the German Mills Creek to 850 mg/l in the river’s main branch. In short, we are practically pickling our rivers.

Environment Canada/Health Canada’s five-year Road Salt Assessment has found that chloride based road salts were so harmful to soil, water (rivers and groundwater), plant life and wildlife that they have classified road salt as an environmental toxic on Environment Canada’s Priority Substances List. Unfortunately the Ontario Ministry of Transport has a blanket exemption on the 2.7 million tonnes they use annually on Ontario roads.

So how is the City of Toronto doing? The City of Toronto Salt Management Plan (SMP) was approved by Council in spring 2002. The SMP proposes not a targeted reduction strategy for salt use but an approach to better manage salt use considered necessary for road safety. Through the purchase of improved spreading equipment, computerized weather sensing of road temperatures, spreader driver and loader training, use monitoring and reporting (but so far no replacement of salt with alternative substances), and public education, the Transportation department intends to but offers no target for reducing salt use in Toronto.

As advocates for the Don, it is our responsibility to educate the public about the impact of road salt use. The public needs to reduce its expectations for bare pavement. Homeowners and businesses must be encouraged to use alternatives such as Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) as a snow melter or sand if traction is required. CMA products can be purchased at eco-friendly stores such as Grassroots.

For more information on Salt Use and its reduction, you can visit Riversides "Low Salt Diet Campaign" website and the SLDF profiler on Road Salt.

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