Water protection: winter salt management

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One of the biggest impacts to water quality is from using salt in the winter. Over time, the salt we put on the ground can end up in our drinking water and cause it to taste salty.

Share ideas and learn how you can help protect drinking water from over salting. To stop salting completely may not be an option but we know we all could use a little less.

Join the conversation online using #SaltingShift.

www.regionowaterloo.ca/saltingshift

One of the biggest impacts to water quality is from using salt in the winter. Over time, the salt we put on the ground can end up in our drinking water and cause it to taste salty.

Share ideas and learn how you can help protect drinking water from over salting. To stop salting completely may not be an option but we know we all could use a little less.

Join the conversation online using #SaltingShift.

www.regionowaterloo.ca/saltingshift

Discussions: All (7) Open (7)
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    Brick damage
    Salting is an unfortunate but necessary reality for Southern Ontario winters. We spread salt on our roads, parking lots and walkways - and we're grateful that it helps to keep us safe from slips, falls and accidents.

    But what is the cost to using salt? We know there is a cost to purchase it but what about the other costs we might not think about? Over salting and poor salting practices are negatively impacting our community. A National Post article "The awesome price we pay" outlines some of the costs of using salt. In the article just one of the...

    Salting is an unfortunate but necessary reality for Southern Ontario winters. We spread salt on our roads, parking lots and walkways - and we're grateful that it helps to keep us safe from slips, falls and accidents.

    But what is the cost to using salt? We know there is a cost to purchase it but what about the other costs we might not think about? Over salting and poor salting practices are negatively impacting our community. A National Post article "The awesome price we pay" outlines some of the costs of using salt. In the article just one of the costs the author writes of is "Dalhousie University estimated that it costs it an extra $15,000 in cleaning and maintenance each year just to repair all the damage salt does to floors and baseboards".

    How salt costs our community:

    • Drinking water - When snow melts or when it rains, the salt placed on roads, parking lots and sidewalks to keep us safe, washes into our waterways or travels underground causing salt levels to increase in the drinking water which could make the water taste salty
    • Dog’s paws - salt trapped on your pet's paws can irritate and crack skin
    • Buildings and concrete surfaces - outside structures (bricks/concrete/sidewalks), doorways and flooring may become damaged, increasing repair costs
    • Plants and landscaping - if sprayed with salt, vegetation can lose its hardiness to the cold and be killed by freezing temperatures and high salt levels
    • Footwear and clothing - salt can stain and potentially ruin footwear and clothing
    • Vehicles, bicycles and wheelchairs - salt accelerates rusting, causing damage and increasing repair costs
    • Aquatic life - salt changes water density, which can negatively affect the seasonal mixing of lake waters. This mixing is important to increase oxygen levels required by aquatic life for survival.
    Do you have an experience to share about the cost of salt? Share your thoughts here.
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    Winters in Waterloo Region can be long and harsh. With freezing cold temperatures occurring anytime between November and April, residents need to be prepared for icy parking lots, driveways, entrance ways, and sidewalks.

    If you've ever purchased winter salt, de-icer or ice melter, you'll have found there isn't just one salt cure-all, but several products that promise different things. And if you want to help protect the environment product labels can be confusing.

    Did you know currently there are no labeling laws when it comes to de-icers? The product might say environmentally friendly, 100 per cent natural, or salt free....

    Winters in Waterloo Region can be long and harsh. With freezing cold temperatures occurring anytime between November and April, residents need to be prepared for icy parking lots, driveways, entrance ways, and sidewalks.

    If you've ever purchased winter salt, de-icer or ice melter, you'll have found there isn't just one salt cure-all, but several products that promise different things. And if you want to help protect the environment product labels can be confusing.

    Did you know currently there are no labeling laws when it comes to de-icers? The product might say environmentally friendly, 100 per cent natural, or salt free. But is it? When it comes to our drinking water, salts and most ice melting products contain chloride. And it is the chloride that is damaging to our drinking water.

    So what to do? Before reaching for any product read our 5 questions you should ask before salting.
    Reading the labels of the different brands is important. Some salts are more corrosive, whereas others are specifically designed to be safe around pets. Some products have finer grains to allow for a more even spread so it works faster and is more effective. The working temperature for salt products can also vary making it crucial to follow package directions carefully.

    Here's a list of common active ingredients and the lowest melting temperature they are most effective. The melting temperature relates to the pavement temperature and not the air temperature.
    • Urea (NH2)2CO (0 to -7°C)
    • Sodium Chloride (NaCl) (0 to -10°C)
    • Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) (0 to -23°C)
    • Potassium Acetate (KCH3COO) (0 to -26°C)
    • Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) (0 to -29°C)
    • Sand - provides traction only, does not melt ice
    What to consider when buying your ice melter:
    • Read the product packaging to understand what temperature your product works best
    • The finer the grain the better - it will work faster and spread more evenly
    • Whatever product you buy remember to use it sparingly - salt and most de-icers contain chloride and are harmful to water
    • When using traction sand, look for a product with little (less than 5 percent) or no salt
    • There are currently no labeling laws for ice melters
    Learn more about the differences between salt products by reading this Consumer Reports rock salt and ice melts review.

    Always read your winter salt instructions carefully. Using too much salt, or using it when the product doesn't work at all, will not only waste your salt and money, it will also negatively impact surrounding water, plant life, and infrastructure.
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    Salting
    You’ve finished shoveling snow, and now you’re ready to apply winter salt to the icy spots.
    Or at least you think you are.

    Salt isn’t always the right answer. Before you reach for your bag of winter salt, you’ll want to ask yourself these important questions.
    1. What’s the temperature? Alright, it’s cold. But how cold is it exactly? The current local temperature matters quite a bit when using your salt or de-icer. Salts and de-icers work at different temperatures. Before reaching for your salt or de-icer, first read the directions on the product packaging so you know what...

    You’ve finished shoveling snow, and now you’re ready to apply winter salt to the icy spots.
    Or at least you think you are.

    Salt isn’t always the right answer. Before you reach for your bag of winter salt, you’ll want to ask yourself these important questions.
    1. What’s the temperature? Alright, it’s cold. But how cold is it exactly? The current local temperature matters quite a bit when using your salt or de-icer. Salts and de-icers work at different temperatures. Before reaching for your salt or de-icer, first read the directions on the product packaging so you know what temperature the product works best. For example sodium chloride salt loses its effectiveness on ice when the temperature dips below -10 degrees Celsius. Sprinkling salt on an extremely cold day won’t get rid of your ice, and it will increase the risk of salt damage. Use sand, grit, or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction instead.
    2. What will the temperature be? Check your upcoming weather conditions before adding unnecessary salt. Is the forecast predicting warmer weather in the very near future, potentially rising above freezing? In that case, there’s little reason to use salt at all. If temperatures are on the rise, let the sun do the work for you by melting the ice without the environmental damages from salt.
    3. Are there plants nearby? How close is the salt to your grass, or plants? This is an important thing to take note of, as salt can dehydrate soil and block a plant’s ability to feed itself. Be sure to use salt sparingly around plants, keeping both as far away from each other as possible. When you need to use salt, do your best to aim with accuracy so that none of it ends up on grassy areas or in plant beds—besides the environmental impacts, it’s also a waste of salt.
    4. Where are your pets? If you have pets that go outside, remember that salt can be harmful to their paws, and should never be consumed. Although your loyal friend may want to help you clear your driveway, make sure they aren’t nearby if you need to apply salt. Following label directions, and not over salting, will help reduce the chances of salt irritating your pets in the future.
    5. How much salt should I use? This is an important question that should be asked more often. First, make sure you read the packaging label to see what’s recommended. Although you might think the more salt the better, too much salt creates other problems including affecting our drinking water. Spread a thin layer of salt evenly across any icy areas. In many cases, applying one tablespoon of salt for every one-metre square area of ice is all you need to get the job done. Using a salt with a finer grain will also help you to spread it more evenly so it can work faster.
    It’s sometimes just an old habit to reach for the bag of salt before considering other environmental factors. Not only will over salting cost you more in salt, but poor practices also negatively impact many aspects of our lives, from our environment to our infrastructure.

    How do you make the call on when to salt and when not to? Let us know and join the conversation using #SaltingShift.
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    Winter in Waterloo Region creates a whole lot of work for businesses and residents.

    From big tasks such as changing your tires and winterizing your home, to smaller inconveniences like trudging through the snow or clearing off your car, there’s plenty to do.

    One of the main tasks we take on every season is clearing snow and ice. That is, unless, a kind neighbour has already cleared your sidewalk or driveway.

    That’s why in Waterloo Region we say: “Be nice. Clear the snow and ice.” Although local bylaws require you to clear the snow and ice from your sidewalk, it...

    Winter in Waterloo Region creates a whole lot of work for businesses and residents.

    From big tasks such as changing your tires and winterizing your home, to smaller inconveniences like trudging through the snow or clearing off your car, there’s plenty to do.

    One of the main tasks we take on every season is clearing snow and ice. That is, unless, a kind neighbour has already cleared your sidewalk or driveway.

    That’s why in Waterloo Region we say: “Be nice. Clear the snow and ice.” Although local bylaws require you to clear the snow and ice from your sidewalk, it also just feels like the right thing to do, and it’s a kind neighbourly gesture if you’re able to lend a hand.

    Here are a few helpful "hacks" for clearing snow and ice so you can get your sidewalk cleared quickly, easily, and safely.
    1. Don't delay. Get at your snow before it freezes there! If snow is left for too long or becomes packed down, it could turn to ice and become much more difficult to remove. Or, if it is a heavy snowfall, waiting until it stops snowing could mean a much heavier task. Do yourself a favour and get shoveling as soon as possible.
    2. Listen to your body. When removing snow, remember to lift with your legs, and to take several breaks. Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity, and strain combined with cold air can take a toll on your heart. If you have cardiovascular problems or a history of heart disease, speak with your doctor before attempting to shovel. Lifting snow improperly can also strain muscles, so remember to bend your knees, lift with your legs and TAKE BREAKS!
    3. Clear a little at a time. If you were away from home during a heavy snowfall and are facing a foot of snow on your sidewalk, do not try to lift it all at once. Shovel snow in layers - few inches off the top at a time. Lifting smaller amounts may mean the task takes longer, but it will put less strain on your heart. And your back will thank you too!
    4. Store snow out of the way. Be careful about where you leave the snow you are trying to remove. You’ll only add to a larger problem if you clear your sidewalk by pushing the snow over to your neighbour’s side. Take care to pile your snow in a designated spot where people won’t be walking or driving.
    5. Don’t leave your snow on the road. We know it can be frustrating when a plow comes by and leaves a bunch of snow at the end of your driveway. It can seem like a good idea to shove the snow out onto the road to be picked up by the plow on its next pass, but that only makes it more difficult for regular traffic to use the street. You may not know that this is actually against the law, so getting caught could cost you more than the time you saved.
    6. Don’t use winter salt on snow. It isn’t necessary, and it’s harmful to the environment to use salt on snow. Save the salt for the ice. Freshly fallen snow can be removed without the aid of salt, which should always be used sparingly as it’s known to damage driveways, drinking water, pets’ paws, and more. Learn more about the many impacts of winter salt.
    7. Remove ice too.  Before reaching for the salt, a steel ice chopper can be a great tool for breaking up the ice.
    8. Only use salt on icy areas. Winter salt or any de-icer should only be applied to patches of ice. In many cases, you should only need to apply one tablespoon of salt for every one-metre square area of ice. Remember that it takes time for the salt to work, so do not immediately try to remove the ice after the salt has been sprinkled.
    9. Check the temperature. Before reaching for the salt check your local weather forecast. What is the current temperature? Is it getting colder or warming up? Now check the working temperature of the salt or de-icer you are using. There are different types of salts and de-icers that work at different temperatures. For example sodium chloride salt works best between 0 and -10 degrees Celsius. If it’s too cold for the salt or de-icer to work, use a traction aid like sand instead. And if it’s warming up to above 0 degrees Celsius, instead of salt, let the sun do the melting for you.
    10. Create traction to reduce the potential to slip. Sometimes salt is not the right tool for the job. Before spreading the salt make sure it will work for the current temperatures. Or if it’s warming up you might only need to provide some traction until the sun melts the ice away. Once the snow is cleared and you’re left with icy patches, you can use sand, grit, or non-clumping kitty litter to create traction. This won’t melt the ice, but it will reduce the potential for slips and falls.
    Do you have other helpful hacks for clearing snow and ice? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation using #SaltingShift.

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    We had the opportunity to sit down with Geoff Fernie, PhD, Senior Researcher at WinterLab the creator of ratemytreads.com, to discuss the importance of effective winter footwear. Rate My Treads is an online resource, growing in popularity each year, for measuring and scoring the effectiveness of winter boots.
    Geoff shared that research WinterLab has obtained from other sources indicates there can be five times more visits to the emergency room on an icy day in Toronto, Ontario.

    Many factors can play into slip and fall scenarios including what you wear on your feet.

    In November 2016, WinterLab had completed...

    We had the opportunity to sit down with Geoff Fernie, PhD, Senior Researcher at WinterLab the creator of ratemytreads.com, to discuss the importance of effective winter footwear. Rate My Treads is an online resource, growing in popularity each year, for measuring and scoring the effectiveness of winter boots.
    Geoff shared that research WinterLab has obtained from other sources indicates there can be five times more visits to the emergency room on an icy day in Toronto, Ontario.

    Many factors can play into slip and fall scenarios including what you wear on your feet.

    In November 2016, WinterLab had completed friction testing of 100 products marketed as winter boots by the manufacturers. Alarmingly, Geoff shared that 90 of the 100 boots did not meet the minimum friction requirements. This meant that despite purchasing footwear labeled as winter boots by the manufacturers, the vast majority of people wearing them were still at risk of injuries related to slips and falls.

    This understandably caused quite a stir among consumers, and ratemytreads.com quickly shot up in popularity, earning 2.5 million website visits and receiving over 200 calls from TV and radio media outlets. Not only that, the brands that had a relatively decent score compared to the majority of winter boots saw a steep rise in popularity, and sold out before Christmas of 2016.

    It didn’t take long for retailers to take notice.

    Before the 2017 winter season, many retailers reached out to Rate My Treads and said that they would only sell the brands that had scored well on the website. Shoe manufacturers saw their profit margins take a significant hit, so they decided to send prototypes to be judged by Rate My Treads before putting their boots into mass production.

    Now 20 per cent of the tested and scored boots listed on Rate My Treads meet the minimum requirements, a marked improvement over past years. The website has a score for over 200 different winter boots, and Geoff and his team don’t plan on stopping there.

    Geoff says Rate My Treads continues to change the industry in three ways.
    • It has changed the buying habits of Canadian consumers.
    • It has made retailers pay more attention to the quality of boots they’re selling.
    • It has motivated boot manufacturers and the footwear industry to do better.
    And all in a couple of years.

    Salting, and traction building products such as grit or sand, help us get around during winter months, but in the middle of a snowstorm, these strategies can take time. We’re also learning more and more about the damaging impacts of winter salt on the environment, infrastructure, and more. Purchasing effective winter boots is one of the few aspects of winter we have control over.

    Geoff said, “I think this has a direct impact. The performance of footwear is obviously key if we’re going to reduce salt.”

    Take the time to carefully research effective winter footwear for you and your family. Purchasing boots that meet minimum friction requirements is the first step, and the next is making sure you wear them throughout the season.

    The team behind Rate My Treads includes clinicians, engineers, scientists, researchers, and students that work out of iDAPT, the research arm of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network. They want to continue to test and add boots that meet higher standards. They are also researching other future slip and fall solutions such as redesigned pavement, and improved accessibility standards. Learn more about what a future without winter salt could look like.

    Do your winter boots meet minimum friction requirements? Find out at ratemytreads.com and join the conversation by commenting or using #SaltingShift on social media.
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    Winter salt is economical to purchase, readily available and an effective tool for keeping roads, parking lots and walkways clear of ice.

    But do you know how salt works?

    Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water. When the temperature dips to 0 degrees Celsius, water turns to ice. Salt works by dissolving in the water creating brine that has a lower freezing temperature than pure water. In cold temperatures, snow can bind to the pavement, making it very difficult to remove. Salt prevents or breaks the bond between ice and the pavement, allowing snow and ice to be more easily...

    Winter salt is economical to purchase, readily available and an effective tool for keeping roads, parking lots and walkways clear of ice.

    But do you know how salt works?

    Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water. When the temperature dips to 0 degrees Celsius, water turns to ice. Salt works by dissolving in the water creating brine that has a lower freezing temperature than pure water. In cold temperatures, snow can bind to the pavement, making it very difficult to remove. Salt prevents or breaks the bond between ice and the pavement, allowing snow and ice to be more easily plowed or shoveled.


    Did you know there are different types of salt and each one has its own working temperature? The working temperature is the coldest temperature salt is effective before the water refreezes as ice. It's important to understand the working temperature for the salt you are using. Otherwise you may be wasting money throwing salt on ice when it is too cold to work. For example sodium chloride or NaCl works best between 0 and -10 degrees Celsius. For colder temperatures calcium chloride or (CaCl2) is more effective with a working temperature down to -25 degrees Celsius.

    Or instead of salt, you might decide to just add traction using grit, sand or non-clumping kitty litter.
    Before spreading the salt:
    • read the product directions to understand the working temperature and application rate
    • check the outside temperature to make sure the salt you are using will work
    • follow these snow and ice clearing tip
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    After the winter season ends, you may find that you have leftover winter salt. Read on to learn how to store winter salt for the next year, or if needed, how to dispose of it.

    This post will answer:
    • Does winter salt expire?
    • How should winter salt be stored after winter?
    • How do you dispose of winter salt?
    • Can you use winter salt for anything else?
    Does salt expire?

    After the winter season ends, you may find that you have leftover winter salt. Read on to learn how to store winter salt for the next year, or if needed, how to dispose of it.

    This post will answer:
    • Does winter salt expire?
    • How should winter salt be stored after winter?
    • How do you dispose of winter salt?
    • Can you use winter salt for anything else?
    Does salt expire?
    Rock salt, and other types of salt like table and kosher, does not have a set expiration date. Because salt (sodium chloride) is an essential mineral, it can never spoil. This is the reason sodium chloride has been used as a food preservative and seasoning for thousands of years.

    If stored properly, winter salt can last indefinitely. So there is no need to use it all up before the end of the winter season.

    How to store winter salt until the next season
    Winter salt should be stored in a cool and dry place with little temperature changes. Keep your winter salt in an airtight container, as changes in moisture can cause your salt to clump together and harden. If the salt does end up clumping together, you can still use by breaking it apart.

    Wherever you store it, make sure to keep it out of the reach of children and pets. Winter salt and ice melters can be harmful if ingested, can irritate mouths and stomachs and, depending on the amounts consumed, winter salt can be poisonous.

    Sweep up your salt at the end of winter
    Instead of buying more salt, save your money by sweeping up any leftover salt to use again next winter! Don’t forget about any excess salt that has collected in driveway corners, steps, or walkways. Leaving it there for the rain to wash away adds to salt’s negative effects on your own gardens, buildings, other plant life nearby, and our community’s drinking water.

    How to handle and dispose of winter salt
    Since salt doesn’t expire, first consider keeping it for next year or donating it to a not-for-profit organization or place of worship. If disposing of it, find out how with the help of the Region of Waterloo Waste Management Waste Whiz  and searching on rock salt. If you need to touch winter salt, be sure to wear a pair of protective gloves. Prolonged contact with salt can drain moisture from your skin, leading to irritation and cracked hands.

    What not to do with winter salt
    Save your winter salt for what it was meant to do—breaking down ice during winter months.
    • Never use winter salt as a weed killer. Winter salt is bad for the environment. Salt robs soil of its moisture, creating a toxic environment for plant life. It is so effective at killing plant life that sometimes people will suggest it as a weed killer. This may kill your weeds, but the salt will also harm any other plants nearby and when it rains the excess salt gets into our waterways. Caution should be used when spreading salt around plants in the winter as it can have lasting effects on plant life in the spring and summer months that follow.
    • Never use winter salt as water softener. Water softener salt, as opposed to winter salt, is specifically processed to be used in water softening equipment. Winter salt is unprocessed and sold with all of the impurities it brought with it from the ground. This may make it cheaper than softener salt, but winter salt has 95% purity, whereas softener salt has 99% purity. This difference in purity may not seem significant, but using winter salt as a softener for your water will only hurt your wallet in the end. Winter salt’s drop in purity means that it contains several insoluble minerals, like clay and shale. These minerals can clog your pipes, resulting in more frequent maintenance and repairs.
    Winter salt can last indefinitely and can be kept until next season when stored properly throughout the year. Saving your winter salt for the following year reduces excessive waste and helps your wallet once winter rolls around again.

    Join the conversation online using #SaltingShift.
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