Controversy over hundreds of thousands of tons of snow removal salt in Canada

Canada uses hundreds of thousands of tons of salt to melt snow on the streets to ensure traffic safety, but they have a great impact on the environment.

Hundreds of snow removal vehicles are deployed across Montreal an average of more than 100 days a year, coating roads with salt and releasing waste into the air.

“Snow is a big challenge in Montreal,” said Philippe Sabourin, a city spokesman, in late January.





Clearing snow on the streets of Montreal on January 27.  Photo: AFP

Clearing snow on the streets of Montreal on January 27. Photo: AFP

He said the total length of the city’s roads and sidewalks is up to 10,000 km, equivalent to the distance from Montreal, Canada, to Beijing, China. About 3,000 employees and 2,200 vehicles operate day and night every time it snows, keeping the streets open.

In Montreal alone, every winter, about 150,000 tons of salt is sprinkled on the streets and sidewalks. “This has a big impact on the ecosystem,” said Florent Barbecot, a professor of hydrogeology at the University of Quebec in Montreal. “We’ve noticed in the last few years that salt concentrations are increasing little by little in the environment.”

He said the salt stays on the road, dries and evaporates as temperatures warm, “ultimately dissolving into the atmosphere, affecting future rainfall.”

The city realizes that salt is bad for the environment, but has not found an effective substitute, despite conducting a lot of research, in the context of Montreal’s annual snowfall up to nearly two meters.

“This is a substance that has great benefits” by lowering the freezing point of snow and melting the ice, Sabourin explains. “We tried using powdered coffee instead. It smells nice, but it doesn’t work.”

He said the city has also tried beetroot juice, which is less corrosive than salt, but “it stains the floor, everyone doesn’t like it”.

Until the late 1990s, snow filled with waste and pollution was dumped directly into the St.Lawrence River before it was banned. Some is now being dumped into a snow trough connected to the sewer system. But 75% is stored in quarries.





Trucks carrying snow clear from the street to a dump in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 27.  Photo: AFP

Trucks carrying snow clear from the street to a dump in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, January 27. Photo: AFP

To the south of the city there was a mound the size of several football fields, as high as a ten-story building. At the foot of the mound, small trucks piled up gray snow. In a few months, when spring comes, the snow will melt, waste and gravel are separated from the water and the water is treated before being discharged into the river.

According to Barbecot, the city should use less salt, but that would require changing “lifestyles” by limiting urban growth and traffic.

“This is a social choice,” he said.

On the street, people don’t seem ready to accept such a big change. According to Charles Drolet, a driver blowing snow in the city, most people want to see the streets cleaned more often.

For Montreal resident Francine Lanlonde, roads flooded with salt and cleared of snow “are the bad thing to do” despite the negative impact on the environment.

Hong Hanh (Theo AFP)

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