By guest writer, N. M. P.
Soil pollution is one of the major problems taking place today. Our earth is increasingly getting contaminated and polluted! And there is no one else to blame, but ourselves.
The pollution of soil is the result of the presence of contaminants, including toxic compounds, radioactive materials and other foreign and harmful chemicals, in the soil. As a result, the soil loses its structure and chemical (content of oxygen, nitrogen, etc) and biological (e.g. ability to support life) properties.
Some of the common soil pollutants are hydrocarbons, heavy metals (e.g. cadmium, lead, chromium, copper, zinc, mercury and arsenic), herbicides, pesticides, oils, tars, Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) and dioxins.
Main causes of Soil Pollution
- Soil pollution is often associated with indiscriminate use of farming chemicals, such as pesticides, fertilizers, etc. Pesticides applied to plants can also leak into the ground, leaving long-lasting effects. Read about the dangers of pesticides. In turn, some of the harmful chemicals found in the fertilizers (e.g. cadmium) may accumulate above their toxic levels, ironically leading to the poisoning of crops.
- Heavy metals can enter the soil through the use of polluted water in watering crops, or through the use of mineral fertilizers.
- Faulty landfills, bursting of underground bins and seepage from faulty sewage systems could cause the leakage of toxins into the surrounding soil.
- Acid rains caused by industrial fumes mixing in rain falls on the land, and could dissolve away some of the important nutrients found in soil, as such changing the structure of the soil.
- Industrial wastes are one of the biggest soil-pollution factors. Iron, steel, power and chemical manufacturing plants which irresponsibly use the Earth as a dumping ground often leave behind lasting effects for years to come.
- Fuel leakages from automobiles, which get washed by rain, can seep into the nearby soil, polluting it.
- Deforestation is a major cause for soil erosion, where soil particles are dislodged and carried away by water or wind. As a result, the soil loses it structure as well as important nutrients found in the soil.
Effects of Soil Pollution
The effects of pollution on soil are quite disturbing and can result in huge disturbances in the ecological balance and health of living beings on earth. Some of the most serious soil pollution effects are:
- Disturbance in the balance of flora and fauna inhabiting in the soil.
- Contaminated soil decreases soil fertility and hence there is decrease in the soil yield.
- Normally crops cannot grow and flourish in a polluted soil. However if some crops manage to grow, then these crops might have absorbed the toxic chemicals in the soil and might cause serious health problems in people consuming them.
- Sometimes the soil pollution is in the form of increased salinity of the soil. In such a case, the soil becomes unhealthy for vegetation, and often becomes useless and barren.
- When soil pollution modifies the soil structure, deaths of many beneficial soil organisms (e.g. earthworms) in the soil could take place. Other than further reducing the ability of the soil to support life, this occurrence could also have an effect on the larger predators (e.g. birds) and force them to move to other places, in the search of food.
- People living near polluted land tend to have higher incidences of migraines, nausea, fatigue, skin disorders and even miscarriages. Depending on the pollutants present in the soil, some of the longer-term effects of soil pollution include cancer, leukemia, reproductive disorders, kidney and liver damage, and central nervous system failure. These health problems could be a result of direct poisoning by the polluted land (e.g. children playing on land filled with toxic waste) or indirect poisoning (e.g. eating crops grown on polluted land, drinking water polluted by the leaching of chemicals from the polluted land to the water supply, etc).
Preventing Pollution of Soil
- Strong regulatory programs to minimize soil contamination need to be introduced.
- Reuse and recycle unwanted items. Or even better, reduce consumption and reduce your trash. The less rubbish we create the less chance the waste will end up in our soil.
- There is a need to educate the public about the harms done when they litter.
- If you are a gardener, make use of organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, because they are usually made of natural substances, are bio-degradable and do little harm to the natural balance in the soil.
- Insist on buying natural and organic food, because chemical pesticides and fertilizers are not used in their growing process. Not only are organic foods healthier for the environment, they are also healthier for you and your family. Read about the benefits of organic food.
- Cut down your usage of paper. Or use recycled paper. In this way, fewer trees need to be cut down and there would be reduced deforestation. Read about the benefits of recycling to the environment.
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