Impacts of salt

You can learn the impacts of salt on our environment. This is part one of the course.

Concern of salt on the environment

Chloride pollution

Every winter, we use salt to melt ice on our streets and sidewalks to make them safer. However, salt is a major concern for all bodies of water. As snow melts into our storm drains, it carries the salt away. This salt empties into our waterways.

Chloride, a compound found in salt, permanently pollutes our:

  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Groundwater
  • Streams
  • Wetlands

Salt also causes costly damage to:

  • Buildings
  • Vehicles
  • Plants

78% of salt applied in the metro area ends up in groundwater or local lakes and rivers.

Salt pollutes the earth permanently

There's no easy way to remove salt from water.

Imagine pouring a packet of salt into your glass of water. How would you remove the salt after it dissolves? Now, imagine trying to remove the tons of salt that end up in our freshwater. This is not possible.

Many of us use more salt than we need to effectively melt ice. The salt we use today will remain in our waters forever.


  • Salt is the top source of chloride use in Minnesota.
  • Salt permanently pollutes the earth and our water sources.
  • Salt damages everything from plants, buildings and vehicles.
  • Many overuse salt. More salt does not mean more melting.
  • 78% of salt applied in the metro area ends up in groundwater or local lakes and rivers.

Major impacts

Drinking water

Most natural water contain traces of salt (chloride). Too much salt can affect the taste of drinking water.

Salt in well water

Over 30% of the wells in the Twin Cities have chloride concentration levels that exceed the water quality standard. 

(Source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)

Person pouring glass of water


Aquatic and wildlife

The harms to wildlife

Salt pollution impacts the health of wildlife, such as birds and mammals.

  • Birds often mistake salt crystals for seeds. Eating even small amounts can result in death.
  • Mammals like deer may drink salty snow melt. This can result in salt poisoning.
  • Salt can cause declines in sensitive species and reduce natural diversity.​


The harms to aquatic life

Salt in surface water can be toxic to aquatic species like:

  • Fish
  • Insects
  • Amphibians

High levels of salt threaten the health of food sources. It poses a risk to species survival, growth and reproduction.

Chloride-free de-icers also harms aquatic life

Even non-chloride de-icers impact water quality. These alternatives may biodegrade, but they need oxygen. This leaves less oxygen for aquatic life. Depleted oxygen levels create competition for available oxygen. This leads to Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) and other issues.

The bottom line: de-icers don't belong in our freshwater.


Common loon in water



To protect the pets in your neighborhood, be mindful of salt use.

Pets may consume de-icing materials by:

  • Eating them
  • Licking their paws
  • Drinking snow melt


The harms to pets

Salt labels are not regulated. There's no such thing as "pet safe" de-icing salt.

Exposure to salt can cause your pets:

  • Irritation
  • Inflammation
  • Cracking of paw pads
Dog running in the snow



Salt corrodes the concrete on:

  • Bridges
  • Parking lots
  • Buildings

This weathering leads to compromised structural integrity. It also increases maintenance and repair costs.


Rust and cars

Salt speeds up rusting. This causes damage to vehicle parts and other materials that are prone to rust.


Pink truck with rust on it



Many of us are over salting. Save your money while still prioritizing safety by using best practices for ice removal shared in this mini-course.

Ways to use less salt

  • Physically remove snow and ice early and often.
  • Try using a shovel, snow blower or scraping.
  • Use salt sparingly and only as needed.

We'll talk about more best practices in this mini-course.

person shoveling path in snow



Salt pollution harmfully affects:

  • Drinking water
  • Aquatic and wildlife
  • Pets
  • Infrastructure
  • Cost

Contact us

Salt Mini-Course Program

Surface Water & Sewers Regulatory Team
Public Works