Canadian environment ministry proposes to classify road salts as hazardous to environment

Environment Canada, the Canadian environment ministry, has launched a 60-day consultation on whether road salts, which contain inorganic chloride salts, should be categorised as a toxic substance. However, the Canadian government insists that it is not considering a ban on road salts.


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More than five million tonnes of road salts are used in Canada each winter in order to mitigate ice and snow conditions on roads. The new measure will mean that, under Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), the Canadian government has two years in which to develop management measures that will reduce the environmental impact of salt.

A five year scientific assessment by Environment Canada has shown that salt damages vegetation, soil and wildlife, and almost all chloride ions from road salts find their way eventually into waterways, whether by direct runoff into surface water or by moving through the soil and groundwater. Road salt poses a particular risk in Canada, due to the large quantities that are used, says the department.

New management actions that could be used under the programme include improved application technologies, such as electronic spreader controllers, anti-icing, pre-wetting and road weather information systems which prevent ice formation and lead to reduced use of salt. Improved management techniques could also include reducing losses of salt at storage sites, better engineering of snow dumps to control run-off, meteorological forecasting tools, and the use of alternate products in environmentally sensitive areas. Actions will be selected and developed by the government of Canada with input from some provinces and territories, and stakeholders such as municipalities, transportation and road maintenance authorities, the road salt industry and environmental groups. Only management techniques that do not jeopardise safety will be considered, says Environment Canada.

Comments on the Government’s proposal should be sent within 60 days to: The Director, Existing Substances Branch, Environmental Protection Service, Environment Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OH3; by fax to (819) 953 4936; or by email to PSL.LSIP@ec.gc.ca.

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