Signs of our Road Salt Addiction
I greet the spring with great enthusiasm – now, we can change our boots for running shoes, and put away our scarves and mitts.
However- along with the melting snow comes the signs of our addiction to road salt.
A dirty grey crust of salt is visible on boots, cars and trucks, sidewalks, parking garages and bridges. As the snow pack melts, there is a surge of salt moving into streams and rivers, causing damage to young fish and other aquatic life. In some areas, drinking water can show higher readings of sodium – worrisome for people with hypertension.
Back in 2001, Environment Canada assessed road salt as a toxic substance and considered adding it to the list of most toxic substances and regulating its use. They knew road salt was entering the environment in large quantities and having a negative effect on freshwater, soil, vegetation and wildlife. However, Environment Canada was persuaded by the salt industry to, instead, put in place a voluntary code that “invites” municipalities to manage their salt use. Now, we use more road salt- not less. Maybe it’s better managed at the front end – on concrete pads instead of bare earth. But on any given winter day, we’re still coating our sidewalks and parking lots and roads with this stuff. And, at the end of winter, there’s a surge of poison heading for our lakes and streams.
One family decided to not suffer in silence from this contamination.
Recently, a farming family in Lambton County won their case for damages caused by road salt to their farm. They claimed they suffered crop losses leading to a depreciation in the value of their farm due to the County’s use of road salt near the property over several years. The court decided in their favour and awarded damages for crop loss, the cost of testing for the case and for the diminution of the value of their property.
In reading the legal decision, I found it interesting that the County road manager testified about the salt management plan put in place about the time the lawsuit started. “Despite all the evidence of the County’s efforts to reduce its salt use he indicated he was “not sure it is hazardous” and said it was not regarded as a contaminant.”
This result of this case is sending a buzz out among the members of the Ontario Good Roads Association, which represents some 450 municipalities. They seem to be discussing how to change the rules to protect themselves against other such cases rather than assessing with urgency what they can do to reduce the use of salt and its damage.
It’s not surprising – at the end of 2014, Environment Canada issued their latest voluntary guidelines that sets targets for performance by municipalities who choose to participate. When you read this pablum-coated document, there is no message to reduce the use of road salt. Just another verison of “salt management” – managing our addiction to poison.
Let’s stop this addiction.
The public has come to expect bare roads after storms but at what price to our environment and our health? It’s time to tell our provinces and municipalities to deliver safe roads rather than bare roads. It’s time to insist that our health and the health of our rivers and streams take precedent over protecting the profits of the salt mining industry.
Send Friends of the Earth the signs of salt addiction you see in your community. We would love to receive and share your photos of the damage caused by the overuse of road salts. Email your photos to foe [at] foecanada.org, or share your photos with us on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #toxicmelt