Evaluation of chloride contributions from major point and nonpoint sources in a northern U.S. state

Alycia Overbo, Sara Heger, John Gulliver

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15 Scopus citations


Chloride pollution of groundwater and surface water resources is an environmental concern in many regions. While use of road salt for winter road maintenance is known to be a major source of chloride in the environment, limited research has investigated the environmental impacts of chloride discharged from water softeners, particularly in areas with hard water. A chloride budget was developed for the state of Minnesota to estimate the amount of chloride discharged from household water softeners as well as other domestic, agricultural, commercial, and industrial sources. The analysis used multiple data sources, including salt sales records and wastewater monitoring data, and used statistical, spatial, and survey methods to estimate chloride loading from major sources statewide. Annual chloride mass contributions were estimated for the following sources: household water softener use; human excretions; household product use; chloride concentrations in drinking water; atmospheric deposition; road salt use; dust suppressant use; fertilizer application; industrial discharge; and livestock excretions. A mass balance for 96 wastewater treatment plants with effluent monitoring data showed that across these facilities, discharge from water softeners was the largest chloride source. A statewide chloride budget found that road salt was the largest source of chloride to the environment, but that WWTPs and fertilizer were also substantial sources, discharging 221,300 t and 209,900 t annually. Water softeners were estimated to contribute 65% of the chloride discharged to all 613 municipal WWTPs statewide. Methods used in this analysis could be applied to other communities, watersheds, or states with similar conditions. The results of the analyses indicate that water softening is an important chloride source in areas with hard water and underscore the importance of identifying and characterizing chloride sources in less urban areas, where deicing salt may be a less important contributor and receiving water bodies are often lakes, reservoirs, and streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number144179
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Apr 10 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources), M.L. 2016, Chp. 186, Sec. 2, Subd. 04n.


  • Chloride
  • Potassium chloride fertilizer
  • Road salt
  • Surface water
  • Wastewater treatment plants
  • Water softener

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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