Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Report highlights perils of rampant road salt use in Ontario

Environmental groups released an investigative new report today documenting the dramatic toll road salts are taking on Ontario’s environment and built infrastructure, and are calling for major changes in the way these environmentally toxic substances are
managed. Authored by the RiverSides Stewardship Alliance and Sierra cLegal Defence Fund, the report, titled A Low-Salt Diet for Ontario’s Roads and Rivers, provides a review of the extensive scientific evidence concerning environmental and economic impacts of road salts and provides a clear road map for reducing the use and impact of road salts.

“Anyone who has had rust spots appear on their car or tried to remove salt stains from their clothing is familiar with how pervasive road salts are on our winter roads,” said Kevin Mercer of RiverSides. “But these are minor inconveniences compared to the devastating impact the more than six million tonnes of road salts used each year on Canadian roadways has on our waters, wildlife, roads and bridges.”

Although the federal government declared road salts to be an
environmentally toxic substance in 2001, the report reveals a glaring
inconsistency between that science confirming the emerging
environmental impact on Ontario’s drinking waters, lakes and rivers,
and the fact that road authorities in Ontario continue to apply large
quantities of road salts for de-icing our roadways. The report also
reveals that although road salts are considered to be the cheapest
method of de-icing winter roadways, such accounting ignores the more than six billion dollar annual damage cost to built infrastructure in North America resulting from ongoing use of this corrosive substance and the negative impacts on the ecosystem.

The report is being be used as evidence in a legal submission last week under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights. The groups are demanding that the Government of Ontario immediately remove Regulation 339, a regulatory exemption that shields the Ministry of Transportation and road authorities from being subject to requirements for toxic substances under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act.

“The fact that road salts are a serious toxic contaminant that must be
closely monitored and carefully managed has been well documented,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Dr. Anastasia Lintner. “Given the known potential harm to the ecosystem, it is truly outrageous that the Province of Ontario continues to exempt road salts use from legislation designed to protect our ecosystems.”

The groups are recommending that a new road salts management regime be implemented to minimize the effects of the storage and application of road salts and the disposal of salt laden snow. In an effort to increase road safety while reducing road salts use, the groups are also recommending the government require mandatory use of snow tires and institute reduced winter speed limits.

Please follow the links to read the Media Backgrounder, download the REPORT (500kb pdf file), EBR Application for Review and find out about the public forum.

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