The effects of road salt

Road Salt Kills Fish, Birds and Roadside Plants, and Rusts Cars and Trucks

About five million tonnes of salt is dumped every year on Canada’s roads. A federal study found the salt kills fish, birds and roadside plants, not to mention causing rust in cars and trucks. Extra costs to municipalities include lost salt due to inadequate storage facilities, and damage to equipment and roadside trees due to corrosion.

Municipalities provincial departments and individuals should limit the amount of salt used. Suggested ways to reduce the amount of salt used are: better weather predicting; using de-icing alternatives; preventing the salt from blowing away by covering salt piles; paving storage areas so salt doesn’t seep into the soil; new road weather technology can also reduce a community’s reliance on road salt. Sensors in roads can offer more detailed information about conditions of the pavement so road crews don’t have to be sent out every time there’s snow fall. Cutting the amount of salt used is a tough sell in those parts of Canada where road salt is considered essential. It is the most cost effective way to melt snow and ice on slippery highways.

The City of Toronto is taking steps to make better use the salt it puts on city streets and sidewalks. The City has a Salt Management Plan to ensure that its road salt is used wisely. It balances reduction in salt use with the need to keep roads and sidewalks safe at a reasonable cost. It includes: annual audits of spreading practices; inspections of salt storage yards; ensuring that spreader controls are calibrated and that accurate records are kept; a program check salt content in watercourses, which will be reported annually; installation of infrared pavement temperature sensors on some supervisory vehicles to determine actual road conditions; new salt spreading trucks with electronic controls; fitting some trucks with anti-icing and pre-wetting equipment; installation of four Road Weather Information System units at key locations in the city. The latter help staff to make better decisions on when to use road salt.

Individuals are urged to use salt sparingly or better yet use some other form of ice melter. There are times when a light sprinkling of sand is a good idea.

See also Salt Dome and Snow Dumps interest pages.