If you’re in Vancouver right now, it’s a good bet you’ve got salt on the brain, as the city struggles with ice coated streets and hashtags like #saltcrisis and #saltgate trend on social media.
But while residents are desperate for a dose of salt on the streets, creatures in our local waterways may not be so keen.
So just what is the ice-melting mineral’s effects on our local environment?
LISTEN: Hans Schrier, Professor of Land and Water Systems at UBC breaks down salt’s environmental effects
Hans Schreier, a UBC professor of Land and Water systems says Canadians use an average of about 100 kg of road salt per person per year.
Out here on the west coast, he says obviously we use a lot less, with less snow and more rain.
But he says when we do go heavy, it can have significant impacts on the biosphere. In fact, he says Environment Canada considers it toxic in high enough concentrations.
Generally, with our heavy rains, he says that’s not a problem as the salt becomes diluted as it washes away.
But Schrier says heavy snowfalls like this year can cause problems, because when salty snow is ploughed into piles, it becomes more concentrated — causing bigger problems when it melts.
“And then you get a big slush of high concentrated salt into the system, and it’s particularly sensitive to amphibians and some of the freshwater fish.”
Schreier says the problem can be exacerbated by the fact that salt water is more dense, sinking to the bottom of ponds and lakes where it reduces oxygen levels potentially harming animals and invertebrates.
But waterways aren’t the only one potentially affected.
“If you have a lot of salt in your water which is melting, then it also creates problems for the soil because sodium creates crusts of soil, and that’s not good for plants either,” Schrier says.
So what’s the alternative?
Schreier says materials like Calcium magnesium acetate and potassium formate are environmentally friendly alternatives… but that they aren’t popular because they’re quite a bit more expensive.
Alternately, he says there’s good old fashioned sand or other solids like kitty litter that will give you grip, though won’t melt the ice.