Gov’t Frets Over Road Salt

Environment Canada is again researching methods to stop contamination from road salt. The department stopped short of reviving a 1995 proposal to list the substance as toxic.

“Environment Canada is such a wimpy organization,” said Kevin Mercer, founder of the watershed protection group Riversides. “If somebody says boo, they cower. The department is a shell and it’s an embarrassment.”

Canadian salt miners including K+S Windsor Salt Ltd. and Sifto Canada did not respond to interview requests. Industry and municipalities had protested earlier federal attempts to list road salt as a toxin under the Environmental Protection Act.

The Department of the Environment yesterday in a notice said it would spend $70,000 on research for municipalities to protect “salt vulnerable areas” including farms, forests and fish habitat. Environment Canada in 2015 urged that municipalities take voluntary steps to limit salt damage, such as storing all salt under protective cover.

“A comprehensive scientific assessment by Environment Canada determined that in sufficient concentrations, road salts pose a risk to plants, animals and the aquatic environment,” said the notice Guide For Management Of Salt Vulnerable Areas. The guide would promote “mitigation of impacts of road salts” on freshwater supplies, species at risk, aquatic life and natural habitat.

“The fact of the matter is all you have to do is look at the U.S. Environmental Protecton Agency which not only classified road salt as an environmentally toxic substance, but set limits for its usage,” said Riversides’ Mercer. “That’s more than Environment Canada ever got around to doing.”

Environment Canada in 1995 placed road salt on a “priority substance list”. Federal research in 2001 concluded salt posed a risk to “plants, animals, birds, fish and lake stream ecosystems and groundwater,” but stopped short of listing road salt as toxic. “Measures should be considered to reduce the overall use of chloride salts,” the department wrote sixteen years ago.

Ontario is the heaviest user of road salt in the country at more than 1.8 million tonnes annually, followed by Québec (1.5 million tonnes). Prairie provinces and British Columbia use the least road salt on a per capita basis.

Natural Resources Canada in a confidential 2013 report rated road salt a greater environmental risk than shale gas fracking. Salt was among “the largest risks to groundwater” alongside municipal landfills, industrial waste and fertilizer run-off, said the report Shale Gas Development In Canada: An NRCan Perspective.

By Jason Unrau

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