Soil pollution refers to the dangerous concentrations of contaminants in the soil. While contaminants such as salts, metals, toxic ions, and organic compounds naturally occur in soils, these can exceed natural levels and are considered as pollution.
Soil pollution can have long term consequences; it is often detrimental to plant growth, disrupting food chains and the entire ecosystems. Also, it has a direct impact on food quality and security. In this article, we will review the main causes of soil pollution, its environmental impacts, and how to improve the current soil conditions.
Causes of Soil Pollution
Industrial pollutants are one of the most common causes of soil pollution. Chemicals are released from industrial facilities in both solid and liquid form. Industrial activities emit large amounts of arsenic fluorides and sulfur dioxide, which then raise soil acidity and negatively impact vegetation.
There are several elements of soil pollution in industrial agriculture. Many fertilizers contain substantial amounts of heavy metals, such as nitrate, calcium, and potassium chloride that can disrupt regular growing seasons. Sewage and other liquid waste from domestic water use, agricultural effluents from animal husbandry, and urban runoff also pollute soils.
Another cause is deforestation; the clearing of trees results in increased soil erosion, which lessens the soil’s ability to support vegetation
Soil has a finite capacity to manage with pollutants; when this is surpassed, contaminants will impact other parts of the environment, such as the food chain. As a result, soil pollution also affects food security as it reduces crop yields and the quality.
Soil pollution contributes to air pollution as it releases volatile compounds into the air. Also, air pollution created by burning fossil fuels causes acid rain, which produces an acidic environment in the soils. This harms micro-organisms, which is needed to improve the soil structure by breaking down organic material and helping water flow.
Chemicals in the soil can also be leached into groundwater, which can then reach into the streams, lakes, and oceans. Also, soils with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen can leach into waterways, causing algal blooms, which results in the decrease of the oxygen available for aquatic life.
Where Soil Pollution Starts
Two major areas of soil pollution occurs in United Nations & Europe
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are roughly 2.8 million potentially polluted sites within Europe.. Actions from industrial, commercial, waste disposal, and treatment activities have been the main source of soil pollution in Europe. Mining has been a significant contributor to soil pollution in several European countries.
Even though there have been improvements in waste management and legislation has become stricter, recent assessments in countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey, indicate that soil pollution is still a critical problem.
There are thousands of polluted sites in the United States and Canada. There are roughly 23,000 abandoned mines in the state of Colorado alone, which contribute to soil pollution. Lakes and rivers in Alberta and Saskatchewan are currently experiencing extremely high levels of acid pollution which threatens aquatic ecosystems.
To counter soil pollution on the agricultural level, the EPA has recommended farmers adopt sustainable practices below:
- Drainage practices that conserve resources
- Nutrient management techniques
- Field buffers
- Conservation tillage
- Access to streams for livestock
Also, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act, which led to the creation of programs and strategies that aimed to reduce or eliminate pollution at the source.