As well-intentioned as it may be, it's difficult not to take the city's effort to reduce the harmful effects of road salt with, well, a grain of salt.
Just ask residents living near the Bloor-Bayview snow dump, one of three in the city, who've been watching front-end loaders pile up the white stuff. They're worried about the effect all the snow - with its associated salt and fuel materials - will have when it melts straight into the adjacent Don River.
"There's a significant group of people who want to shut the site down," says Kevin Mercer, executive director of the environmental group Riversides and a member of the city's Task Force to Bring Back the Don.
The effects of contaminated snow are potentially serious. Environment Canada has warned that the quantities and concentrations of road salt used in Canada may pose a threat to watersheds and the life that depends on them.
Contaminated snow can also contain concentrated cadmium, nickel, oils, asbestos from brake linings and other nasty chemicals. Toronto has developed a salt management plan to begin addressing Environment Canada's concerns.
Other measures include retention ponds to remove heavy metals and other debris before letting the water run off. Plans are also in the works to purchase a new snow melter to lessen dependence on dump sites, says Gary Welsh, coordinator of winter operations across Toronto.
"We are concerned with the environmental impacts of dumping of snow in sensitive areas," he says. "That's one reason we were the first municipality to develop a comprehensive salt management plan. We're probably moving faster than any other city in Canada."
Mercer, on the other hand, insists more needs to be done, and faster. The city, he says, is only supposed to use the Bloor-Bayview site in emergencies. Snow dumps should be contained in concrete to control runoff. And an oil-grit separator for runoff should be used. "Eventually, they have to go to capping their salt use and replacing salt with a non-toxic substitute. You can compare salt use on roads with pesticides on lawns."