What is Soil Pollution?- Definition, Causes & Effects

What is Soil Pollution?

Soil pollution is defined as the presence of toxic chemicals (pollutants or contaminants) in soil, in high enough concentrations to pose a risk to human health and/or the ecosystem.

In the case of contaminants that occur naturally in soil, even when their levels are not high enough to pose a risk, soil pollution is still said to occur if the levels of the contaminants in soil exceed the levels that should naturally be present.

It is typically caused by industrial activity, agricultural chemicals, or improper disposal of waste. The most common chemicals involved are petroleum hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (such as naphthalene and benzo(a)pyrene), solvents, pesticides, lead, and other heavy metals.

Contamination is correlated with the degree of industrialization and intensity of chemical substances. The concern over soil contamination stems primarily from health risks, from direct contact with the contaminated soil, vapor from the contaminants, or from secondary contamination of water supplies within and underlying the soil.

The Causes of Soil Pollution

Soil pollution is mostly caused by mindless human activities such as:

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  • Industrial waste. Industries are by far the worst polluters of the soil with all the chemicals they release into the environment in liquid or solid form.
  • Deforestation. By cutting down trees, the soil remains exposed to the elements so that they can be easily removed by soil erosion. This leaves land barren and unable to support vegetation.
  • Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. The increased demand for food has forced farmers to use fertilizers and pesticides, which only release toxins into the soil and kill beneficial microorganisms that are important for plant growth.
  • Garbage pollution. Garbage that cannot be recycled is carelessly disposed of. Not only is this a thorn in the side, but it also pollutes the country. Some of this waste can literally take thousands of years to decompose!
  • Accidental spills and leaks during storage, transport or use of chemicals (e.g. leaks and spills of gasoline and diesel at gas stations);
  • Foundry activities and manufacturing processes that involve furnaces or other processes resulting in the possible dispersion of contaminants in the environment;
  • Mining activities involving the crushing and processing of raw materials, for instance, heavy metals, emitting toxic substances;
  • Natural accumulation of compounds in soil due to imbalances between atmospheric deposition and leaking away with precipitation water (e.g., concentration and accumulation of perchlorate in soils in arid environments)
  • Natural production in soil under certain environmental conditions (e.g., natural formation of perchlorate in soil in the presence of a chlorine source, metallic object and using the energy generated by a thunderstorm)
  • Leaks from sewer lines into subsurface (e.g., adding chlorine which could generate trihalomethanes such as chloroform).

In urban areas, soil contamination is largely caused by human activities. Some examples are manufacturing, industrial dumping, land development, local waste disposal, and excessive pesticide or fertilizer use.

What is Soil Pollution

Effects of soil pollution

Soil pollution also causes the loss of soil and natural nutrients present in it, hindering plants’ ability to thrive in such soil, which would further result in soil erosion and disturb the balance of flora and fauna residing in the soil.

The most important effects of soil pollution according to IPBES and the FAO are indicated below:

  • Damage to health. Soil pollutants enter our bodies through the food chain and cause disease. In addition, the proliferation of antibiotics in the environment increases the resistance of pathogens to these drugs.
  • Poorer harvests. Soil pollutants agents jeopardise world food security by reducing the quantity and quality of crops.
  • Climate change. In the first decade of the 21st century, soil degradation released between 3.6 and 4.4 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.
  • Water and air pollution. Soil degradation affects the quality of air and water, particularly in developing countries.
  • Population displacement. Soil degradation and climate change will have driven between 50 and 700 million people to emigrate by 2050.
  • Species extinction. Soil contamination is one of the main causes that could trigger the sixth mass extinction event in history, the population of land vertebrates fell by 38 % between 1970 and 2012.
  • Desertification. The world’s driest areas could have 45% of the world’s population by 2050, while the size of the world’s wetlands has decreased by 87% over the past three centuries.
  • Economic impact. Global economic losses caused by soil degradation are expected to exceed 10 % of the world’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Effects of Land Pollution

Land pollution touches essentially every area of the living world, including:

  • Water that isn’t safe to drink.
  • Polluted soil, which leads to a loss of fertile land for agriculture.
  • Climate change, which causes an onslaught of disastrous problems, including flash floods and irregular rainfalls.
  • The endangerment and extinction of species in wildlife.
  • Habitat shifting, where some animals are forced to flee where they live in order to survive.
  • An increase in wildfires, due to polluted areas often becoming very dry.
  • Increased air pollution, which burning waste contributes to.

Solutions To Reduce Soil Pollution

Soil degradation is a complex problem that requires governments, institutions, communities, and individuals to take joint action. The following are just some of the things we can do to improve his health:

  • Eat sustainable foods, properly recycle batteries, produce homemade compost, and dispose of medicines in approved locations.
  • Promote a greener model for industries, farming, and stock breeding, among others.
  • Improvement of urban and transport planning as well as wastewater treatment.
  • Improve mining waste management, restore the landscape and preserve the topsoil.
  • Involvement of local communities and indigenous peoples in the conception, implementation, and evaluation of sustainable land and soil management.