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Record snow eats into salt supply - Globe and Mail

Environmentalists worry about the impact of 100,000 tonnes of rock salt used so far

February 20, 2008
James Bradshaw

Soaring demand for road salt after record-breaking snowfalls has depleted municipal supplies but officials say they have enough to get by. Although at least one environmental group thinks the city already spreads too much.

Responding to requests from supplier Canadian Salt and concerns voiced by the Ontario government, Toronto changed its ordering protocol and reduced its salt stockpiles to ensure the supply can keep up with emergency requests when storms hit.

"[Canadian Salt] usually has a lot of supply down at the Port Lands in Toronto - that's been depleted, so now the salt is coming in directly from the mines by truck," said Peter Noehammer, director of transportation services.

"[We've been asked] not to place extremely large orders at any one time, but to place a number of smaller orders a little bit more regularly."

Toronto has needed huge quantities of rock salt to dissolve some of the 145 centimetres of snow that has handicapped the city already this winter. Transportation services uses an average of between 125,000 and 140,000 tonnes of salt annually, and 100,000 tonnes have already been used this year, Mr. Noehammer said.

Canadian Salt has reassured the city that all orders will be delivered, but increased salt use has some environmentalists concerned about Toronto's waterways.

"The city can do a lot more to curb its use of road salt," said Katrina Miller, campaigns director for the Toronto Environmental Alliance. "They have a very conservative snow-management plan in place to reduce the use of road salts by technical means...as opposed to looking at alternative substances."

Mr. Noehammer said the city has reduced the spread of salt using computer technology which measures how much a given road needs, and by using liquid brine, which Ms. Miller dismisses as the same substance in liquid form. She would prefer the city use more costly calcium and potassium-based alternatives.

Mr. Noehammer said the city also tries to reduce the environmental impact by filtering salt out of the massive snow piles generated by the city's $20-million snow-removal plan, two of which are adjacent to the Don and Humber Rivers.

Silt fences catch debris from the runoff, he added, and thawed snow at two stationary melting machines elsewhere is filtered through underground holding tanks to a sewage treatment plant.

Ms. Miller said silt fences help catch some debris, but fail to stop salts that have dissolved in the water from killing fish.

Clearing the way

As city crews work around the clock clearing snow and ice, authorities are cracking down on residents and business owners who choose not to heed Mayor David Miller's plea to get out the shovels and salts and clear their walkways.

By-law officers have issued 1,855 warnings so far this winter, giving property owners 12 hours to comply. They cleared the walks of 223 who failed to comply, fining them $125 to cover costs.

"[Clearing your walk is] not only your duty, it's helpful to everyone." Mr. Miller said Friday.

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