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Excessive road salt use hurting our waterways, U of G researcher says


Seasonal staff for the Region of Waterloo are already preparing for the worst of winter.

Salt has always been the go-to solution for icy roads but environmentalists are challenges communities – like the region – to consider greener solutions.

When the weather turns nasty, Waterloo crews work around the clock at the salt dome on Lexington Road.

“It’s from the Goderich salt mines and they’re brought in by several transport trucks,” says Bob Henderson, the city’s director of transportation services.

As of Monday, they have 35 metric tonnes of road salt.

The City of Waterloo says it will only last approximately one-third of the winter season.

Environment researchers, meanwhile, are voicing concerns about over salting winter roads.

“Salt will eventually get washed into a stream or a lake,” says Ryan Prosser, an ecotoxicology professor at the University of Guelph. “Ecosystems become saltier, which can have a negative impact on the things that live in those ecosystems.”

Prosser worries various species in our freshwater systems could be at risk.

“Southern Ontario has the greatest diversity of freshwater mussels than anywhere else in Canada,” he says. “But they’re very sensitive to salt. Our heavy use of road salt could, you know, push those species even closer to extinction.”

Beet juice brine is also used on icy roads, but Prosser says we still have to be cautious with any alternatives.

“All of that is going to be washed into freshwater ecosystems. It’s all about the amount we use.”

The City of Waterloo is currently using a new solution which mixes salt with magnesium chloride.

“It helps salt actually stick to the roads because it’s a wet agent,” Prosser says. “It’s actually organic, so it’s safe to use. We can use that magnesium chloride in advance of using salt.”

As municipalities search for a new way to treat icy roads, city crews are reminding the public to help them out this winter.

“Respect the trucks and keep a safe distance back,” says Henderson. Top Stories

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