We often hear about air pollution. Images of smoke puffing out of train engines and up into the sky are embedded in our minds. The gas emissions from our cars are monitored while many large cities have smog alerts. In the midst of the conversations on pollution, one of the more commonly overlooked side effects of our daily activities is soil pollution. One of the reasons soil pollution isn’t discussed as much as air pollution is that, for many, it’s not as easily observable. We see smoke coming out of exhaust pipes, but we hardly get to witness toxins entering the soil. As a result, it doesn’t make the same impression even though it’s just as harmful.
Soil pollution, also known as soil contamination, is caused by man-made, harmful chemicals penetrating the earth and causing deterioration. There are many health risks associated with soil pollution, through direct contact with the soil or from air contaminants. Whether it’s in industrialized countries where soil pollution has regulations, or in developing countries with no such capabilities, the matter of soil pollution is a major problem. Knowing the causes and the potential solutions can help to mitigate some of the risks.
The use of chemicals as part of agriculture is at record levels. Whether it’s to increase the production of crops or restrict the growth of harmful fungi, chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides are an integral part of our agricultural process. These chemicals, as well-intended as they are, are not naturally produced and cannot be broken down in nature. As a result, they end up seeping into the ground, stripping away the soil’s fertility and harming the ecosystems. In other cases, plants absorb these chemicals and eventually die off.
The biggest culprit in soil pollution is industrial activity. Even as laws are passed and precautions are taken, mining and manufacturing continues to be a major cause of soil pollution. Industrial waste, whether as part of the job, improper disposal, or due to accidents, wreaks havoc on the soil.
We also damage the soil as part of our everyday lives. It can be through improper disposal of toxic waste that ends up in landfills or bodies of water, or human waste that goes through our sewer system and ends up in our soil. Either way, humans play a major role in causing soil pollution.
Deforestation has an indirect effect on soil pollution. As trees are cut down, the exposed soil is easily carried away during soil erosion. With the soil taken away, the land is left unable to support vegetation.
Acid rain occurs when pollutants in the air such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide mix with rain. It has been proven to negatively impact soil by dissolving important nutrients and even changing the soil’s structure.
Effects of Soil Pollution
The effects of soil pollution are numerous. With damaged soil, the most drastic impact is that life on Earth may become unsustainable. Plants won’t grow and the animal and human lives that depend on them will vanish. Aside from eventual death, soil pollution has several other consequences. Some of these include:
- Development of human diseases from contact with polluted soil or water
- Climate change leads to a disruption in ecosystems that causes harm to certain animal species
- Decreased soil fertility and yield leads to a lack of nutrients and an increase in diseases.
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