A Quest to be #LessSalty

If you are here, you know that we have a problem, and you want to know more. What is road salt? Why do we use so much of it? How does it affect our environment and how can we use less? At CONSALT we know the answer to each of these questions is complex, and we want to help businesses, municipalities and individuals embrace this complexity. Our focus is on supporting the snow removal industry by providing a path towards meaningful change in the way that we manage our urban environments during the winter months. In short, we want to help you use less salt and put fewer chlorides into our freshwater environments!

We use #LessSalty, because we want to be part of creating a movement that impacts individuals, businesses, governments and legislation. As a company, we strive to be a catalyst for real and lasting change, that is built on sound principles, innovation and ambition. Change that once and for all makes our lakes, rivers and streams #LessSalty.

Road Salt : A History

So what is salt? Road salt most commonly refers to granular sodium chloride (NaCl), which is chemically identical to table salt. It works as a de-icing agent because the sodium ions disrupt the bonds between water molecules, thereby lowering the freezing point of water, and breaking down snow and ice. As a consequence of this, the chloride ion is released into the environment, and has downstream effects we will discuss shortly. The road salt problem is really a problem of chloride contamination!

The Good

  1. Road salt is an affordable, readily available and easy to use material to help keep highways and transport networks safe during the winter months. Salt saves countless lives every year!

  1. Without the ability to keep moving in the winter, our economy and infrastructure would not look like it does. Road salt is vital in keeping supply chains and shipping facilities running 24/7.

  1. The use of road salt at your own home helps to create a safer space for yourself and your family. It reduces strain on your body by giving you an alternative to shovelling and chipping away ice. It is easy to use and readily available!

The Bad

  1. The chlorides that are part of road salt end up in the environment, and result in freshwater salinization. Lakes and rivers become more salty, and alter the ecosystems that support fish, mussels and other freshwater species.

  1. Road salt is also corrosive, and leads to damage of infrastructure, equipment and property. Not only does this cost money to fix, but it also puts additional stress on the supply chain and the environment.

  1. The widespread use of road salt also impacts human health. As it begins to infiltrate our water supply, it impacts heart health, reduces the water quality, and contributes to other unforeseen issues!

The Dangerous Lag Effect

In both of these cases, the consequences of road salt contamination were only fully understood long after the salt was applied to the roads. Much like carbon dioxide and global warming, there is a lag effect that pushes the consequences down the line to future generations. For a time, it was thought that the salinization was confined to only the winter months, when ecosystems are less vulnerable to disruption. However, as the problem has been studied in more detail, researchers have shown that salt moves slowly through soil systems, aquifers, streams and rivers, and its impact is not limited to the winter. It has been shown that road salt applied up to a decade ago is now entering our freshwater systems. Therefore even if we are able to get a handle on our overapplication problem right now, we will not be out of the woods. The problem is an urgent one, and we will likely not understand the extent of the problem until it is too late.

So we understand the danger. Why don't we act?

Insurance and Liability

In Canada, and specifically in Ontario, almost all of the liability for snow and ice removal is placed on the winter maintenance provider. That means that if someone slips on a patch of snow or crashes their car due to untreated ice or snow, the snow removal contractor and their insurance company, is on the hook for the liability. This dynamic motivates contractors to over apply road salt, and use it as a shield to the threat of liability. As potential liability increases, so does road salt use. Over the last ten years, the dynamics of this insurance market has driven insurance companies to withdraw from the industry, which has driven up premiums and deductibles to ridiculous levels. This has forced some companies to close down or to file for bankruptcy, while forcing others to react to the increased threat of liability with more salt. This is the last thing that we need!

Lack of Alternatives

From an environmental perspective, we have known that road salt is a contaminant for well over two decades. Because of this, there has been an impetus to find alternatives that are less damaging. Some of these alternatives include beet juice based products, volcanic ash, carbonates, and other organic products. These are all positive things, and they should continue to be pursued. But none of the alternatives that are currently being used are without their own risks and limitations. Researchers continue to work towards an affordable, effective and environmentally inert alternative, but to date is has continued to prove illusive! To learn about some of the alternatives that are available, please see the links at the bottom of the page! This is an exciting space, and one that CONSALT plans to monitor and work closely alongside, so that we can help to bring them to the forefront as the continue to develop.

Where Do We Go From Here?

When faced with this level of complexity, it is easy to shrug our shoulders and give up! Thankfully, there are countless examples of individuals and organizations that are stepping up to the plate and working tirelessly to embrace this complexity and bring forward creative and effective solutions. We discuss some of these below, and there are many others that we do not mention.

Legislative Change

Landscape Ontario has made legislative change a priority for itself and its membership. They recently were able to help pass Bill 118, which put a moratorium on the length of time an individual could wait before launching a slip and fall claim. This is a great first step, but there is more that needs to be done.

Other communities are considering further legislation that aims to regulate, tax, and/or control the use of salt. This is a step that is unlikely to be accepted by industry, but one that may become necessary. The most effective approach to date has been implemented by New Hampshire, and is discussed next. Landscape Ontario and other groups working to reduce road salt pollution are all pushing hard in support of this model.

The New Hampshire Model

In 2004, New Hampshire made a legislative change that has made it the poster child of sustainable winter management in North America. The state relies heavily on both its infrastructure and its freshwater resources, and nature-based tourism. Because of this it was uniquely motivated to implement changes to their liability laws that would encourage a rational approach to winter maintenance. Rather than place the burden of proof on contractors, the burden of proof was moved on to the individual who is injured in a slip and fall. In order to receive this ‘ benefit-of-the-doubt ' approach, the contractor needed to be certified and trained under programs developed by industry experts. This ensures that those who follow best practices won’t be punished with absurd and unrealistic service expectations.

That is why the most effective thing you can do as an individual is to reach out to your local representative. Let them know that this matters to you!

Technology and Automation

As always, science, innovation and technology are working to find solutions and this is where CONSALT aims to make an impact. Every year there are new companies being created with the goal of contributing to these solutions. Whether they are developing chloride alternatives, leading-edge salt tracking technologies, autonomous snow removal solutions or refining already existing equipment and technologies, they offer to be a part of the answer. Municipalities have already started to turn to many of these companies, and are beginning to modernize their equipment, materials, technology and processes. Private contractors are slowly coming around as well, however costs can be prohibitive to smaller businesses without the ability to think long term.

Education and Communication

The more that the public understands a problem and buys into the solutions, the easier it will be to meaningfully address the issue. Non-profits, conservation authorities and governments are working hard to provide consistent and informative messaging to the public and to stakeholders. However, the general population needs to begin to be part of the conversation. By becoming educated on the problem, individuals can find their own motivations for themselves and the people in their lives, and truly commit to being a part of the solution. If we all decided that we value our freshwater resources too much to continue to pollute them with road salt, we would be much closer to solving the problem.

CONSALT Inc. and The Path Forward

ConSalt wants to help these businesses identify what they CAN do now, and how they can plan for a future where regulations and liability begin to push in the opposite direction, encouraging the thoughtful and necessary use of road salt, while punishing reactive practices and over-application. This process is complicated, different for every business, and requires investments of time and money. But it is also necessary. And so we lean into the complicated, try our best to understand the challenges and constraints within your business, and help guide you to a solution that will help you grow your business and strengthen your relationships with your clients.

To read our full "White Paper", please visit the document below. We explore the problem in depth, and give our thoughts on how we should move forward as an industry and as a society. We have also included some links to others in the space who are working towards solutions to some of the more complex aspects of the issue.

ConSalt - White Paper

Additional Information

#LessSalty - https://greatlakes.guide/ideas/make-the-great-lakes-lesssalty-use-less-road-salt

Ontario Chloride Map - https://panda.maps.arcgis.com/apps/StorytellingSwipe/index.html?appid=15236a129dfc48b4afe0808bd4d8fdea

Great Lake Action Fund - https://www.ontario.ca/page/great-lakes-local-action-fund

Credit Valley Conservation - https://cvc.ca/conversations/studying-salt-what-are-the-long-term-effects/

Simcoe County Conservation - https://www.lsrca.on.ca/watershed-health/salt

Government of Canada - Salt Working Group - https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/pollutants/road-salts.html

Smart About Salt - http://www.smartaboutsalt.com/

SIMA - https://www.sima.org/salt

Eco Solutions (Beet Juice Product) - https://eco-solutions.net/

Lava Grip (Volcanic Ash Product) - https://www.lavagrip.com/