Give road salt the boot: Ottawa-area firm

An Ottawa area company is hoping to curb the city's reliance on road salt, but the city said its solution is too expensive.

An Ottawa-area company is hoping to curb the city's reliance on road salt in winter, but the city said its solution is too expensive.

EcoTraction is a natural volcanic mineral that sticks to ice to help prevent slipping, which Earth Innovations has been selling in small quantities across Canada since 2005.

The company is based in Dunrobin, Ont., about 35 kilometres west of Ottawa, but its owner said the city won't try out his product.

"We've been trying for close to five years to get the City of Ottawa to do a formal trial with EcoTraction, and we've encountered a lot of resistance from them," said company founder Mark Watson.

A December report said the city "stays current" with alternatives to road salt (inorganic chloride salt), a known environmental threat that's labelled "toxic" by Health Canada.

But city staff categorize EcoTraction as an abrasive, like sand and grit, not an ice-melter like salt.

At $1,000 per tonne, EcoTraction is financially unfeasible when compared with grit, small particles of stone (an estimated $13 per tonne), city officials said Wednesday.

Watson said because his product doesn't damage roads and infrastructure, it would save the city money in the long term.

City wants salt alternatives: councillor

Watson had been working with city staff to set up a trial. He lined up $300,000 in funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for a pilot project, but the city was still resistant.

With approval from the National Capital Commission, the trial would have lined the pathways along the Rideau Canal with EcoTraction.

"The city is not in the business of doing scientific studies of products, but we are certainly interested when a viable one comes forward," said Coun. David Chernushenko of Capital Ward.

"We should certainly be evaluating new products as they come forward. The challenge is going to be how many of them are coming forward."

Ottawa spreads about 175,000 tonnes of road salt each winter, the most of any municipality in Canada.