Some might think that spreading road salt is a typical
Canadian winter pastime, just like snowshoeing or snowball fights.
As Mr. Bousfield found out, the storage and use of salt can lead to
serious consequences. Mr. Bousfield recently pled guilty to
discharging a contaminant, namely road salt, contrary to the
Environmental Protection Act. Municipalities and other property
owners who regularly apply salt should take note.
Mr. Bousfield stored road salt in an outdoor, non-waterproof
structure on his property. The structure was located at the edge of
Mr. Bousfield's property line with his neighbour. Mr.
Bousfield's neighbour had a row of mature cedar trees
immediately adjacent to the salt storage structure.
The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Changed (MOECC)
investigated, and later alleged that water runoff from the salt
storage structure caused the trees closest to the structure to
start turning brown. The MOECC charged Mr. Bousfield for
discharging a "contaminant" that caused or was likely to
cause an adverse effect. The MOECC's expert opined at trial
that the salt migrated to the rooting zone of some cedars and
likely led to their injury or death.
Mr. Bousfield pled guilty to the charge against him and was
fined $5,000 plus the mandatory 25% victim fine surcharge. Mr.
Bousfield also paid $16,000 to his neighbour as restitution for the
Improper road salt storage and dispersal can be a lightning rod
for environmental liability. Along with regulatory prosecutions,
there have been several recent civil cases resulting from damage
due to road salt contamination.
In 2015, the Superior Court awarded damages in Steadman v.
Corp. of the County of Lambton. Joseph Steadman began to
suspect damage to his crop caused by the County's use of road
salt in the mid-1990s.
The Steadmans discovered that the County's application of
road salt was more than 50 percent higher than the Ontario Ministry
of Transportation recommendations. Environmental investigations
determined that the crop damage was caused by runoff and blowing
salt from the adjacent municipal road.
The Court accepted that road salting serves a public interest of
maintaining road safety. However, the court found that neither the
social utility of the activity (including public safety) nor the
lack of negligence in the application of salt precluded liability
in nuisance. The Court awarded damages in the amount of $45,000 for
15 years of crop losses, $56,700 for diminution of property value,
and $5,652 for the Plaintiffs' costs in investigating the
Impacts on Drinking Water
The impact of road salt on municipal drinking water systems
continues to grow as an area of environmental concern. Sodium and
chloride from winter salt has found its way into municipal drinking
water sources, attracting regulatory attention under the Clean
Water Act, through source protection plans.
In source protection regions, where salt is a significant
drinking water threat, provincially trained and certified Risk
Management Officers have the authority to negotiate Risk Management
Plans (RMPs) with owners of roads and parking lots, and ultimately
order measures if negotiations fail. RMPs may include measures to
minimize salt usage while maintaining road safety, require best
practices and salt application training.
There are practical steps that municipalities and property
owners who apply road salt can take. The 'Smart About Salt
Council' is a not-for-profit organization which offers training
to improve winter salting practices. The Council recognizes and
certifies industry leaders through its certification program.
When storing, using or discharging any contaminant - road salt
included - whether you're a municipality or a property owner,
consider taking steps to reduce your blood pressure.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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In September, California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment ("OEHHA") announced that it had adopted amendments to the regulations governing California's Proposition 65, which requires that businesses provide a "clear and reasonable warning" before exposing an individual to any chemicals that California has determined cause cancer or reproductive harm.
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