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November 30, 2001
City prepares road safety plans with Environment Canada's announcement that road salt is toxic
Works and Emergency Services - The City of Toronto's Transportation Services
Division is continuing to take steps to optimize the use of road salt while
ensuring road safety in the wake of Environment Canada's announcement
recommending that road salt be classified as a toxic substance as defined under
the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA).

"It is our top priority to keep the roads in Toronto as safe as possible and in
passable condition during the winter driving season," said Gary Welsh,
Director, Transportation Services, City of Toronto. "At the same time, we are
committed to playing our part to protect the environment and we will take the
necessary precautions to do that."

Environment Canada announced that excessive road salt poses a risk to plants,
animals, birds, lakes, ecosystems and groundwater, but stressed that road salt
does not pose a risk to humans. Under CEPA, the federal government has two
years to develop control measures for substances found to be toxic and a
further 18 months to implement these measures.

The City of Toronto recently developed a new Salt Management Plan aimed at
optimizing salt use on its roads and continuing to make significant changes to
winter operations in the future to better manage road salt use. Among the
changes the city has made are upgrades to equipment - resulting in better salt
distribution and less waste of salt resources, improved use of weather forecast
information to ensure proper timing for using road salt and improved training
for staff who use salt.

"We look forward to working with Environment Canada and a National Working
Group to establish a Salt Management Action Plan and determine how we can
continue to use salt in an effective manner to aid in road safety while
maintaining the health of our environment," added Welsh.

Environment Canada investigation of road salt
  • In 1995, Environment Canada began a five-year scientific assessment to determine if road salt causes environmental damage
  • Road salt was added to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act's (CEPA) Priority Substances List in December, 1995
  • For each substance, Environment Canada establishes a group of government and non-government experts to prepare documentation regarding the risk to the environment
  • Following external science reviews, an assessment report summarizing the scientific conclusions and recommendations is released for a 60-day public comment period
  • Then, the Minister of The Environment makes a determination as to whether the substance causes environmental damage as defined in the CEPA
  • In August, 2000, Environment Canada issued a news release stating that:
    • Scientists found road salt is entering the environment in large amounts
    • Road salt poses a risk to animals, birds, plants, lake and stream ecosystems and groundwater
    • On average, five million tonnes of road salt is used in Canada for road maintenance activities annually
  • November 30, 2001, Environment Canada announces that it recommends that road salt be classified as a toxic substance as defined under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Salt Usage Facts
  • 5,100 km. of roads
  • 8,200 km. of sidewalks
  • 4,000 bus shelters
  • 500 bridges
  • 201 salt trucks
  • City uses 130,000 - 150,000 tonnes of salt annually
  • City budgets for 14,000 tonnes of sand annually
  • City receives approximately 110 cm of snow annually
  • Employees involved in snow clearing operations (1,000 city staff, 900 contractors)

City Actions to Optimize Salt Use

The Transportation Services Division of Works and Emergency Services is aware
of the risks of road salt and has been enacting continuous improvements to the
way salt is stored and supplied to reduce the amount of salt entering the
environment. The reduction in salt use is balanced with the need to keep roads
and sidewalks safe for users at a reasonable cost.

The division has created a Salt Management Plan. This will ensure that the
city stores and uses road salt in such a way as to minimize the effect on the

The plan includes:
  • An audit of existing salt spreading practices and operations to determine improvements that should be considered
  • Increased staff training for staff who apply salt to roads
  • A study of snow disposal sites, addressing the feasibility of relocating the four or five snow dump locations that are located near rivers
  • An inspection of salt storage facilities at all city yards. Many minor deficiencies have already been corrected
  • Ensuring that salt deliveries be done during non-inclement weather and tarped to protect against spillage
  • Introduction of a number of new salt spreading trucks with electronic controls to the city's fleet. Future plans call for more new vehicles to replacing aging trucks with outdated controls
  • Fitting a number of trucks with anti-icing and pre-wetting equipment. Anti-icing and pre-wetting trials will be conducted this winter
  • Changes to how spreader controls are calibrated, how records are kept and how salt is handled at city yards
  • Development of a chloride monitoring program by the Water and Wastewater Division to determine salt content in watercourses. Results will be submitted to the Works Committee on an annual basis
  • Installation of four Road Weather Information System units at key locations within the city. These units are local automated weather reporting stations that also use sensors embedded in the roadway to provide continuous information on air and pavement temperatures. This is to help staff in making informed decisions on when to begin using salt on roads
  • Installation of Infrared pavement temperature sensors on additional patrol and supervisory vehicles to assist staff in determining actual road temperature conditions
  • Installation of Global positioning units in some trucks in order to conduct a pilot study to track the location of trucks and to record when and where salt has been spread and at what application rate

Media Contact
Gary Welsh
Director, Transportation Services, Works and Emergency Services



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