Road salt in Canada, especially where I’m from in Southern Ontario, is a daily part of our lives in the winter months. It keeps us safe and is applied to paved surfaces on most days when frozen precipitation is expected. From an environmental perspective, road salt leaches into our soils and can affect plant growth, and eventually to the groundwater where the sodium and chloride can be tasted in our drinking water. For that reason, it has been considered a soil and groundwater contaminant, and subject to site condition standards when completing environmental site assessment work.
In Ontario, this has been a tricky situation for many years, and I have had many clients ask me why their property value or development plans are being affected by the application of road salt to parking lots, walkways and road ways for safety purposes. I have sympathized because road salt use has been socially acceptable and relatively unregulated for so long, that treating this as a contaminant is counter-intuitive. But as a consultant and qualified professional (QP), there has been little I could do, particularly in situations where regulatory approvals such as a Record of Site Condition (RSC) were needed.
But there is good news on this front! On December 4, 2019, the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) amended O. Reg. 153/04 governing RSCs. Among a number of changes provided by this amendment, was the ability for QPs to consider elevated concentrations of road salt related parameters in soil and groundwater to not be exceedances if it is determined that the road salt was applied solely for the purpose of vehicular or pedestrian traffic safety under conditions of snow or ice. This does not pertain to bulk storage of road salt, or snow dumps.
This will simplify the RSC process for many properties, and hopefully allow many developments to proceed that were stalled due to unforeseen remedial or risk assessment costs. This regulatory amendment contained several other common-sense changes, and has been well received by many of us in the environmental consulting profession.