Newswise — January 13, 2020 – We all want to be safe during winter storms. That includes on roadways and on sidewalks. But, the knee-jerk reaction to throw out a lot of salt on our driveways, sidewalks and roadways has long-term environmental impacts. This Soil Science Society of America Soils Matter blog post explains how too much salt reduces soils’ ability to retain plant nutrients and water, and damage soil structure.

Salts that blow off the pavement of roads, driveways and sidewalks, or flow away with melted ice and snow can wreak havoc on soil systems. “Soils that contain too much sodium are unable to effectively retain important plant nutrients,” says blog author Mary Tiedeman. “Sodium in soils can also reduce plant-available water and is even toxic to many plant species.”

The troubles don’t end there, however. “Sodium contamination leads to the breakdown of soil aggregates (or clumps),” Tiedeman says. “Water and air cannot move as easily through the soil. This process makes for a harsh environment for plants. It also has water quality ramifications, as surface soils erode far more readily when water cannot easily penetrate the soil surface.“

Common sidewalk salts found at hardware and home stores contain sodium salts. There are alternatives that use magnesium instead of sodium; these are better for the environment because magnesium isn’t as toxic to plants as sodium. You might recognize these ions from recommendations of your own diet – lower sodium, and balance magnesium, calcium and other electrolytes. The advice is the same for soils.

If you are concerned about the health of your soil and nearby water resources, you can implement these changes:

• Be proactive with shoveling

• Use the smallest amount of salt necessary

• Wet deicers before application

• Use kitty litter or sand for traction.

In addition, if you live in an apartment or share a driveway, or work in an office building, you can encourage your landscape/snow removal companies to attain certification in soil- and environmentally-friendly techniques.

Tiedeman encourages everyone to think about the impacts of today’s de-icing decision to tomorrow’s soil health. “The weather outside may be frightful. So too is the impact of salts on soil and water quality. But rest assured; you have the power to reduce your environmental impact this winter. Make a change today!”

To read the entire blog post, visit

Follow SSSA on Facebook at, Twitter at SSSA_Soils. SSSA has soils information on Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members and 1,000+ certified professionals dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. The Society provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.