Studying Salt: What Are the Long-term Effects?

While it’s now officially spring and most of the snow has melted away, the side effects of winter road salt remain. The environmental impacts are severe and widespread. CVC’s Water Quality team measures and tracks chloride from road salt across the Credit River Watershed. Our monitoring shows that chloride is a major water quality stressor. Road salt does not disappear with melting snow and ice. It dissolves and makes its way into ditches and stormwater systems, eventually entering rivers, lakes and groundwater. The chloride found in de-icing products is harmful to freshwater wildlife at high concentrations and can also have negative effects on vegetation, soil and vulnerable species.

The best way to solve this problem is to use less road salt but there’s a lot of room for improvement in how it’s used, particularly on parking lots. CVC is working on a road salt study that will be completed next winter to answer outstanding questions about best management practices on parking lots, using CVC’s Head Office in Mississauga as a case study.

Parking lot at CVC's head office in Mississauga
Parking lot at CVC’s head office in Mississauga

We’re working closely with our winter maintenance contractor to track the timing and amount of salt that’s applied. We’re also tracking snow and ice melt, as well as surface conditions. For example, we’re measuring surface friction and monitoring pavement conditions with time-lapse photos. Through this study, we hope to learn how different application rates can still achieve a safe result and how liquid anti-icing works on permeable vs non-permeable surfaces.

CVC is leading by example with the goal of reducing chloride pollution from our head office parking lot, minimizing our environmental footprint and creating an example for other institutions to follow. Through continued efforts, our salt management plan will be improved to create efficiencies and reduce road salt, all while keeping our parking lot safe for staff and visitors.

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By Sara Jose and Lorna Murison, Water and Climate Change Science

Comments (4)

  1. Great to read this! I have long wondered about the effects of salting in winter, along with windshield washer fluids used by the hundreds of thousands of vehicles during winter.

    Looking forward to seeing the eventual results.

  2. Have you enquired as to how certain European countries , I am thinking more specifically Austria, Switzerland and Germany as to how they maintain their roads in the Winter and if they use other organic materials rather than salt ?

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, we will look into European practices. We are hoping to incorporate organic products into our maintenance next winter, but unfortunately organic products also contain salt.

  3. Your article on Road salt and impacts on the ecosystems is a needed study Bravo. I would be interested in the use of the newer Brine liquid application by many public transportation agencies in comparison to the traditional rock salt applications on the natural environment.

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