Toronto's $800,000 weapon against winter
The city's new fire-breathing behemoth will gobble up
the salt-spiked snow that usually melts into -- and pollutes
-- the Don River
By Jeff Gray
The Globe and Mail
Published December 11th, 2004
You could call it Snowzilla -- an $800,000 fire-breathing
monster the size of a tractor-trailer. Instead of descending
upon the city to wreak havoc, however, this behemoth is
being shipped here from its Nova Scotia birthplace to
battle mounds of snow, just in time for winter.
"It's a wicked machine," boasts Terry Dwyer,
a salesman for Trecan Combustion Ltd., Nova Scotia-based
manufacturer of the 350-PD, which can dissolve about 300
tonnes of the white stuff an hour.
"In a nutshell, you're getting a huge hot-water
tank on wheels," Mr. Dwyer explains. " It just
eats the snow and turns it to water."
Its main target is the ugly mountains of filthy black
snow that build beneath the Bloor Street viaduct, where
mounds that would otherwise be blocking downtown streets
Sometimes five storeys high and full of pollutants and
road salt, these mountains next to the Don River (there
is also a site along the Humber River) have long had environmentalists
up in arms. After a blizzard, salt levels in the Don rival
the waters of the ocean, says Kevin Mercer, executive
director of the environmental group Riversides.
While this has helped saltwater-loving transplanted Pacific
salmon thrive, Mr. Mercer says, it has hurt other aquatic
life. Even worse are the high levels of heavy metals and
oil that come off the bottoms of our cars and end up in
After Toronto's "send-in-the-army" snowstorm
of 1999, one of the mighty snow mountains lasted well
into the summer, Mr. Mercer recalls, melting to reveal
mounds of garbage and grit scraped off the roads the previous
"All the trees around the perimeter of the site
are dead," he says.
Under pressure from the city's Bring Back the Don task
force to phase out the use of these riverside snow dumps,
the city has decided to try out Snowzilla, which will
sit along the lakeshore and dump the water it creates
-- unfortunately still laden with salt and heavy metals
-- into the western beaches sewage tunnel, which will
carry it out into Lake Ontario.
Gary Welsh, the city's director of transportation services,
says he hopes to put in place measures on the Don dump
sites, such as retention ponds to collect the heavy grit
and trash before it gets into the ecosystem. While studies
have shown little difference in salt content between water
upriver from the snow dumps and water downriver, he says
the city knows road salt is bad for the environment.
That's why his department is also testing alternative,
and more expensive, de-icing substances to try to reduce
the city's addiction to salt. This year, trucks will spray
up to a million litres of brine or salty water, which
allows less salt to be used. Other trucks will try using
sugar-beet extract and a corn byproduct mixed with magnesium
But Mr. Welsh warns that despite the new melter, he isn't
ready to abandon the snow-dump sites along the Don just
yet. Although it can handle 12,000 truckloads of snow
over two weeks, he needs space for 150,000 truckloads
this winter. So while the hope is that the new machine
will continue to enjoy a diet of less-salty snow, and
perhaps one day be joined by other massive melters, those
mountains won't disappear altogether.
"There's basically no vacant land in the downtown
suitable for snow-disposal sites," Mr. Welsh says.
Let it snow: The 350-PD snowmelter
This 15-metre-long monster machine has a liquid-cooled
six-cylinder turbo diesel engine that uses up to 1,500
litres an hour, the equivalent of more than 100 Ford Excursion
SUVs driving at 100 kilometres an hour. While the city
hopes that melting the snow will reduce pollution in the
Don River, it will do little for the city's air quality.
At full tilt, the machine squirts 5,300 litres of water
a minute, at an estimated temperature of 3C, out two pipes.
Front-end loaders dump snow into the unit's 28,000 litre
tank, where four powerful hot-air burners melt a guaranteed
275 tonnes an hour with 56-million BTUs of heat, the equivalent
of 800 home furnaces.
The fuel tank holds 11,356 litres of fuel, or about as
much as 190 pickup trucks.