City seeks ways to reduce road salt use
By Chelsey Romain
Timmins Daily Press
Published January 15, 2008
Road salt used to keep Ontario highways clear of ice could in fact be damaging the environment, and municipalities are being asked to cut back its use.
In its 2006-07 annual report, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario stated that road salt use has contributed to elevated chloride levels in the Great Lakes, has contaminated aquifers and compromised drinking water quality for communities relying on well water.
Now, cities such as Timmins are looking at ways to reduce the amount of road salt used on local highways.
In Timmins, contractors are hired to cover the highest class or most-travelled roadways, such as Highway 101, Municipal Road, Th‚riault Boulevard and Airport Road, to name a few.
"We basically use road salt on the main highways," said City of Timmins projects engineer Ken MacDonnell. "Salt is very expensive compared to sand."
Contracted out, four trucks are used to monitor the highways to help keep the highways clear of ice.
"It's not recommended you use salt in weather colder than -12 C," said MacDonnell. "It limits the effectiveness of melting the snow." On all secondary roads, the city uses a mixture of sand and salt, which prevents the sand from sticking. The mixture is also included in the call to reduce the amount of salt bring used on Ontario roads.
"We use about 20,000 tonnes of sand a year," said MacDonnell. "There's a four-per-cent mixture of salt in that and our goal is to get down to three per cent.
"Usually traffic on a warm day on a busy street will bare it up."
The commissioner's report also states the salts have accelerated the corrosion of roads, bridges, sidewalks, parking lots and vehicles.
The amount of salt used by the City of Timmins on any given year varies, based on the weather - the warmer winters will probably see more salt use, said highway patroller Rob Bartlett.
"I'd say we're below what we were at last year," said Bartlett told The Daily Press on Tuesday.
"This year started off a lot colder than last."
Typically, MacDonnell said the city would use about 6,000 tonnes of salt at a cost of about $100 per tonne.
As the city continues to look at initiatives to lessen the amount of road salt used, MacDonnell said the city could save between 400-500 tonnes annually.
Recently, city council accepted a salt-management plan, which was compiled to look at the effects the salt has on the environment in Timmins.
"At a higher concentration level, the chloride could have detrimental effects on the environment," said MacDonnell.
"We're still going to have to use it, but we're taking initiatives to make sure we're not oversalting and having a lighter spread rate of salt on warmer days."
The city will also be surveying its nine snow dumps to see where runoffs are occurring, to ensure salt is not draining into any rivers or lakes.
"We've set our priorities to control the situations, if required," said MacDonnell, adding that surveying three snow dumps per year means it will take three years to complete their observations.