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If you like fresh, clean water and care about the environment read on. In 2018 I was invited to attend a summit with over a hundred other people representing 18 Scarborough community organizations. The purpose was to discuss ways to make Scarborough a better place to live and work.
The most interesting presentation, to me, and the one that received the most questions was made by a representative of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TCRA) and the Report Card he handed out. Particularly when it came to the quality of our water.
The report made several references to the use of road salt (sodium chloride) and the negative effects it has on aquatic life, the impact it has on increasing levels of E. coli bacteria and the cumulative impact it has on the quality of our water as the percentage of salt in our fresh water continues to rise.
The second thing that stood out, relating to the same issue in the report, was “less than 35% of the urbanized areas in the region have effective stormwater controls which help prevent flooding and manage water quality. Untreated runoff may flow directly into a watercourse, or it may rush through storm sewers before being discharged directly into the lake.” (The Living City Report Card 2016, Toronto Region Conservation Authority)
There has been ongoing work on Toronto’s storm sewer system. According to Jennifer McKelvie, Chair of the City’s Environment, and Infrastructure Committee “The City of Toronto continues to decrease its use of salt and is investigating alternatives to improve water quality. “Our wet weather flow master plan allocates $4.3 billion over 10 years to mitigate the wilder, wetter, weather we are facing due to climate change. These investments in new infrastructure will eliminate direct storm water discharges and improve water quality in our streams, rivers and Lake Ontario.”
The use of road salt started in New Hampshire in 1938 because it was an inexpensive way to mitigate ice and snow issues on sidewalks, roads, and highways. Now eighty-three years later, it is pervasive. Millions of tons of road salt are used annually in North America.
Alternatives to sodium chloride are available, such as calcium chloride acetate (CMA), beet molasses, cheese brine, pickle brine, and sand. However, they are not widely used by municipalities or provincial and state transportation departments. One of the principal arguments is that the alternatives are either more expensive or impractical.
According to Doug Floyd, former Transportation Commissioner of Metropolitan Toronto: “Nobody really wants to use it, but it is a natural product, and it helps to avoid accidents and saves lives. It’s a trade-off.” However, there are some other detrimental impacts, aside from the environment, it corrodes steel used in concrete on things like bridge decks and other manmade structures, not to mention cars, and the damage it does to roads.
One solution has been to coat the road salt with beet molasses and distribute it in key areas. The unique de-icers—beet by-products in New Jersey and Minnesota, (beet) molasses in Maine and cheese brine in Wisconsin—supplement salt or replace it entirely. They are a way to reduce pollution and lessen salt’s corrosive impacts on roads and waterways. (John Finnerty/CNHI News, Jan 25, 2019) This technique is used in a limited way in the cities of Toronto, Barrie, and Calgary.
What we can do as individuals is avoid the use of road salt on our properties. Alternatives are available at many home-improvement stores. Look for the ones that indicate they are environmentally friendly. If you can’t find them, try going online as some stores only make them available via the Internet.
Alternatively, while you my not be able to access beet molasses or cheese brine, perhaps you could start saving your pickle brine and get a spray bottle.