Climate Zone: Big – green – changes to campus snow removal this winter

With winter weather just around the corner, the college is changing the way they handle ice and snow around campus by changing the salt they use. James Hopkins, the associate director of facilities operations at Algonquin College, says the new type of salt is both better for the environment and for snow removal. How is […]
Photo: Rebekah Houter
With winter weather just around the corner, Algonquin College is changing the way ice and snow are being handled around campus by changing the salt it uses.

With winter weather just around the corner, the college is changing the way they handle ice and snow around campus by changing the salt they use.

James Hopkins, the associate director of facilities operations at Algonquin College, says the new type of salt is both better for the environment and for snow removal.

How is the college changing the way they use salt?

Roughly five million tons of road salt is used every year in Canada, according to Stats Canada, in order to help dissipate the ice on roadways, driveways, and sidewalks. However, the chemicals in the salt are hard on both the ground and the environment.

With the old contract with the previous snow removal company coming to an end last year, the college went with a different company that uses a saltwater brine. It doesn’t have the harsh corroding factor of regularly used road salt with sodium chloride.

“The idea with the brine is that you try to spread that out before the snow, so the stuff doesn’t stick and so it’s easier to actually remove,” said Hopkins.

For those who use road salt, the Ottawa Riverkeepers have recommendations.

The charitable organization’s work involves protecting and educating about the Ottawa River’s watershed. Matthew Brocklehurst, its communications manager, says the Riverkeepers’ recommendation is to use about one coffee cup of salt to cover a space the size of an average driveway.

“This is one of our main messages at Ottawa Riverkeeper,” said Brocklehurst, “which is just to use less salt.”

Since the salt’s chemical reaction only works up to -7 C, other ways to get a better grip on slippery ice include sand, gravel or even coffee grounds.

What are the environmental impacts of road salt?

“Road salt is sodium chloride and the kind that gets spread on roads is usually rock salt,” said Brocklehurst.

“Although there are a few variations and when that enters streams, creeks, and other waterways it dissolves and the part that we’re most concerned about is the chloride. So, the chloride ion that’s part of the rock salt can have a lot of detrimental effects on freshwater ecosystems.”

Brocklehurst added while the Ottawa River is considered too large for long-term effects, small streams see the most damage.

“So, for example, it can interfere with the reproduction and respiration of many aquatic animals, especially amphibians and insects, and it has a disproportionate effect on smaller streams,” said Brocklehurst.

What is the most important thing to know about ice and snow?

Algonquin’s facilities website give tips and trick on what to do when walking on ice and snow, like taking tiny steps, wearing the right footwear, or ‘penguin walking’ by pointing your toes inwards and shuffling.

Most importantly, the best packing snow for snowballs happens when the temperature is hovering around the freezing mark and becomes a more wet snow. So pull on those mittens and get ready for a long snowy season in Ottawa.

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