It’s white. It’s everywhere. It can accumulate on Toronto sidewalks in the winter.

It’s road salt, and it can be toxic to wildlife.

Salt is damaging to shoes, infrastructure, and the paws of our pets. Salt doesn’t disappear with the snow; it washes into Ontario’s creeks, lakes and rivers and stays there. This is bad for the environment and can harm wildlife, or even contaminate drinking water.

With these issues in mind, the City created a Salt Management Plan to balance the need to keep roads and sidewalks safe for users at a reasonable cost with the environmental impacts.

Live Green Toronto wants to raise awareness about excessive salt use on private property — which can be the cause of 50 per cent or more of the road salt contamination in the Great Lakes watershed.

Excessive salting is not safer, because too much salt means people can slip on the salt grains. Using the right amount of salt ensures safety without harming the environment.

Tips and tricks

  • Shovel first. Road salt doesn’t work on top of a big pile of snow. Use salt only after clearing your path.
  • Apply salt or other ice-melting product, if needed, to melt any remaining snow or ice. Give it time to work, then shovel again.
  • Be sure to use the right amount, not too much. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how much product to use and check its effective temperature range. Salt begins to lose effectiveness at -10C and is ineffective below -20C.
  • Apply sand as a traction aid, if needed.
  • Don’t salt where you don’t walk. Clear a narrow strip of your walkway if that’s all you  need. Leave the snow around the strip unsalted. This can save a lot of salt.

Contractors work through the night to make your property winter-safe. Interested contractors should check out the Smart About Salt program – Ontario’s resource for training and certification of road salt. Contractors can learn about the new techniques, best management practices, proper tracking and logging, as well as level of service expectations. Training and tracking salt usage is the first step in meeting road salt reduction. Training is beneficial for both the property manager and the contractor.

Live Green Toronto has partnered with World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) to raise awareness of the negative environmental impacts of excessive road salt use.

Toronto is part of the Great Lakes region, which is home to 90 per cent of Ontario’s population and drives over 40 per cent of Canada’s national economic activity. It’s also one of the largest connected freshwater ecosystems in the world and home to more than 200 species at risk.

According to WWF-Canada, a big threat to wildlife and the health of our creeks, rivers and lakes is chloride contamination from excessive road salt application.

A growing body of academic and on-the-ground research has identified that chloride is accumulating at a staggering rate in flowing waters, groundwater and in stormwater ponds linked to the Great Lakes. Chloride levels in urban creeks and rivers in the winter are far above what is healthy for freshwater wildlife. When the water is too salty, species like fish, turtles and frogs can’t reproduce or survive.

In Ontario, chloride enters water systems primarily through the annual application of 3-5 million tonnes of road salt, used as an anti-icing method for winter road maintenance. Chloride is not filtered out through soils, taken up by plants or removed by waste water treatment processes. It simply accumulates in our water sources.