Soil Pollution: Its Causes, Consequences and Solutions

Soil pollution is the process of degradation of the quality of the earth’s surface.

Human intervention and the accumulation of chemical, radioactive and toxic compounds are the main causes and their effect is negative for plant and animal life.

The soil is the most superficial layer of the earth’s crust layer and is composed of organic materials (decomposition of plants and animals) and inorganic (rock fragments).

This allows the life of plants and animals and makes the soil productive and useful for agricultural activity.

Soil contamination generates a negative change in its biological, chemical and physical characteristics. In addition, it compromises their fertility, puts plant life at risk and can lead to the displacement of animal species.

Causes of soil contamination

soil contamination

Agricultural activity and the use of fertilizers seriously affect the quality of the soil.

There are different reasons why the quality of the earth’s surface deteriorates.

agricultural technology

In the cultivation processes at present, the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, sewage, etc. is common. When this occurs excessively, the natural nutrients in the soil are modified by interaction with these substances.

land compaction

Terrestrial compaction is deliberately done by man in order to intervene the surface and condition it for certain types of activities.

Such activities can range from land compaction for cattle ranching to land compaction for infrastructure construction.

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In both cases, the roots of the vegetation are compressed, which prevents their growth and causes their death. The process turns the land into an infertile surface.

garbage disposal

In those communities where there is no proper process for classifying garbage, it happens that the decomposition of this releases toxic substances and other agents that destroy the fertility of the land.

Nuclear accidents and atomic tests

This is one of the most serious causes of soil contamination due to the scale of deterioration they cause. In addition to destroying the fertility of the earth, nuclear or atomic waste released in accidents or tests makes any attempt at recovery for the future totally impossible.

Consequences of soil contamination

soil contamination

The lack of nutrients in the soil negatively affects the life of animals and plants and promotes desertification.

The consequences generated by soil contamination have a negative influence on the life of plants, animals, human beings and society in general. Among these stand out:

  • Difficulty for cultivation: the constant use of fertilizers and chemical products affect soil fertility and cause nutrient loss. This makes it difficult to grow food and raise animals.
  • Erosion: indiscriminate felling accelerates the process of soil erosion and contamination.
  • Disappearance of species: contaminated soils favor the disappearance of plants and animals that consume contaminated food. This affects and can modify the most sensitive ecosystems.
  • Water and air pollution: in the ground they filter and accumulate dangerous substances of industrial and urban use that contaminate the water that feeds living beings. In other cases, even, polluting gases can be released from the soil that affect air quality.
  • Environmental degradation: Failures in the processes of industrial and urban waste collection cause substances to accumulate that affect the development of animal and plant life.
  • Economic losses: contaminated soils are not very productive, since cultivated foods are characterized by the accumulation of substances that affect the quality of life of animals, plants and people. Therefore, they are products that cannot be marketed.
  • Waste filtration: the lack of urban planning affects the proper functioning of the drainage systems. These, in general, have obstructions through which contaminating liquid and solid residues filter into the ground.
  • Diseases: the consumption of contaminated food endangers the health of people and animals that may present allergies or poisoning.
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Types of soil contamination

soil contamination

The accumulation of chemical and radioactive waste can generate both point and diffuse pollution.

Soil contamination can be the result of both human activities and various environmental processes. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or FAO Food and Agriculture Organization), differentiates two types of soil contamination.

punctual contamination

Point pollution occurs in a given area and derives from one or more activities that can be easily identified, mainly related to human activities and industrial activities. It is common in urban areas.

Examples of this type of pollution are: the lack of control in garbage dumps, the installation of illegal dumps, the inadequate disposal of garbage, leaks from industrial storage tanks, among others.

diffuse pollution

Diffuse pollution covers large territorial extensions. It has various causes, which makes it difficult to identify and delimit the negative impact it generates on the environment and on people’s lives.

This type of pollution is largely due to the dispersion of polluting substances through water, air and soil. Some substances that cause point pollution may even be related to diffuse pollution.

An example of non-point pollution is the unsupervised disposal of certain wastes that can contaminate water. Also, the use of pesticides that contain heavy metals, as these accumulate in the soil and affect the life of animals.

Solutions for soil contamination

soil contamination

The use of organic resources is part of the actions that prevent soil contamination.

There are different solutions that help avoid or reduce soil contamination. Among the main actions is the taking of preventive measures, including educating people so that they are aware of the importance of avoiding this type of contamination. Some solutions are:

  • Apply more efficient recycling systems.
  • Store and use chemicals correctly.
  • Avoid storing chemicals in the open air.
  • Use leak detection systems in tanks that store chemical products.
  • Encourage the use of renewable energies.
  • Implement organic products.
  • Improve wastewater treatment processes.
  • Sort the waste correctly.
  • Avoid deforestation of forests and jungles.
  • Improve the planning of cities, their transport and industrial zones.
  • Make homemade compost.
  • Avoid using excessive pesticides or fertilizers.
  • Implement activities that help restore the surface layer of the soil.
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See also:

  • 11 types of pollution.
  • Causes and consequences of air pollution.
  • Causes and consequences of environmental pollution.

References

Muhammad Aqeel Ashraf, Mohd; Jamil Maah and Ismail Yusoff. Soil Contamination, Risk Assessment and Remediation. Published: March 26, 2014. DOI: 10.5772/57287.