Soil Pollution and Contamination
Soil Pollution has gradually become a major challenge that we need to overcome for establishing a healthy environment. Weathering of earth’s crusts by different processes leads to the formation of soil that accumulates over the centuries. The soil is the home for a large part of bacterial biodiversity and other microscopic and macroscopic living organisms.
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 which 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.
Soil pollution makes the soil inhabitable for microorganisms and macro organisms living in the soil.
Soil contamination or soil pollution can occur either because of human activities or because of natural processes. However, mostly it is due to human activities. The soil contamination can occur due to the presence of chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, ammonia, petroleum hydrocarbons, lead, nitrate, mercury, naphthalene, etc in an excess amount.
Causes of Soil Pollution
Soil pollution consists of pollutants and contaminants. The main pollutants of the soil are the biological agents and some of the human activities.
All soils, whether polluted or unpolluted, contain a variety of compounds (contaminants) which are naturally present. Such contaminants include metals, inorganic ions and salts (e.g. phosphates, carbonates, sulfates, nitrates), and many organic compounds (such as lipids, proteins, DNA, fatty acids, hydrocarbons, PAHs, alcohols, etc.). These compounds are mainly formed through soil microbial activity and decomposition of organisms (e.g., plants and animals). Additionally, various compounds get into the soil from the atmosphere, for instance with precipitation water, as well as by wind activity or other types of soil disturbances, and from surface water bodies and shallow groundwater flowing through the soil. When the amounts of soil contaminants exceed natural levels (what is naturally present in various soils), pollution is generated. There are two main causes through which soil pollution is generated: anthropogenic (man/human-made) causes and natural (biological) causes. "Soil pollution and Contamination"
Pesticides are synthetic toxic chemicals that definitely kill different types of pests and insects causing damage to the agriculture but it has many ecological repercussions.
They are generally insoluble in water and non-biodegradable. Therefore, these chemicals will not gradually decompose and keep on accumulating in the soil. Therefore, the concentration of these chemicals will increase when the transfer of these chemicals take place from lower to higher trophic level via the food chain. Hence, it will cause many metabolic and physiological disorders in humans.
Herbicides can decompose in a span of few months. However, even they affect the environment and are not environmental friendly. Even though they are not as harmful as organo-chlorides but most of the herbicides are toxic. They are known to cause birth defects.
Furthermore, research suggests that spraying herbicides causes more insect attack and diseases of plants in comparison to manual weeding. One thing to note here is all the above factors occupy just a small portion of the causes. Majority of the causes is related to manufacturing activities in chemical and industrial processes that are released in nature or environment.
The incorrect way of chemical waste disposal from different types of industries can cause contamination of soil. Human activities like this have led to acidification of soil and contamination due to the disposal of industrial waste, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, dumping oil and fuel, etc.
Lack of proper waste disposal, regular constructions can cause excessive damage to the soil due to lack of proper drainage and surface run-off. These waste disposed of by humans contain chemical waste from residential areas. Moreover leaking of sewerage system can also affect soil quality and cause soil pollution by changing the chemical composition of the soil. "Soil pollution and Contamination"
Excessive use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers leads to acidification of soil and contaminate the agricultural soil. Also known as agrochemical pollution.
Disposal of plastics, cans, and other solid waste falls into the category of soil pollution. Disposal of electrical goods such as batteries causes an adverse effect on the soil due to the presence of harmful chemicals. For instance, lithium present in batteries can cause leaching of soil.
Other Possible causes of soil Pollution Includes:
- Continuous drilling in mineral oil and oil wells.
- Mining activities to achieve the essential minerals need to run heavy industries. Wreckage from mining is put in a nearby place. Debris from the excavation of minerals such as stone, iron, ore, mica, copper, etc., eliminates the fertile power of the soil. Together with the water at the time of the rain, the debris goes far away and pollutes the soil.
- Accidents arising during mining activities such as accidents due to accident from oil wells, expansion of oil on land, or during the mining activity for obtaining uranium etc.
- Leakage from pipes being used to transmit oil to the refining plants by the tanks being made for underground oil storage.
- Acid rain carries dangerous levels of pollutants in the air.
- Ashes born after burning coal.
- Large amount of electronic waste production.
Effects of Soil Pollution
Pollutants mix in soil and make it toxic and the chemical changes in the natural form of the soil begin to take place. Soil pollution is a global problem. It causes harmful effect on the soil and the environment at large. Contamination of soil will decrease the agricultural output of a land. Major soil pollution effects are:
Water Sources Contamination
The surface run-off after raining will carry the polluted soil and enter into different water resource. Thus, it can cause underground water contamination thereby causing water pollution. This water after contamination is not fit for human as well as animal use due to the presence of toxic chemicals. "Soil pollution and Contamination"
Inferior Crop Quality
It can decrease the quality of the crop. Regular use of chemical fertilizers, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides will decrease the fertility of the soil at a rapid rate and alter the structure of the soil. This will lead to decrease in soil quality and poor quality of crops. Over the time the soil will become less productive due to the accumulation of toxic chemicals in large quantity.
Harmful Effect on Human Health
It will increase the exposure to toxic and harmful chemicals thus increasing health threats to people living nearby and on the degraded land. Living, working or playing in the contaminated soil can lead to respiratory diseases, skin diseases, and other diseases. Moreover, it can cause other health problems.
Negative Impact on Ecosystem and Biodiversity
Soil pollution can cause an imbalance of the ecosystem of the soil. The soil is an important habitat and is the house of different type of microorganisms, animals, reptiles, mammals, birds, and insects. Thus, soil pollution can negatively impact the lives of the living organisms and can result in the gradual death of many organisms. It can cause health threats to animals grazing in the contaminated soil or microorganisms residing in the soil.
Diseases Caused by Soil Pollution
Humans can be affected by soil pollution through the inhalation of gases emitted from soils moving upward, or through the inhalation of matter that is disturbed and transported by the wind because of the various human activities on the ground. Soil pollution may cause a variety of health problems, starting with headaches, nausea, fatigue, skin rash, eye irritation and potentially resulting in more serious conditions like neuromuscular blockage, kidney and liver damage and various forms of cancer. "Soil pollution and Contamination"
How to Prevent Soil Pollution
There is a need to make stringent rules for reducing soil pollution and preventing it completely. Considering the far-reaching effects of soil pollution, control over it is absolutely necessary. The existence of animal kingdom and plant world is based on soil. The soil is the wealth of the farmers; its deprivation of properties is not only a loss to farmers but to the country’s economy, human health, organisms, and vegetation too.
Certainly, there is a need to adopt strict rules to control soil pollution, some of which are as follows:
- Domestic waste control
Soil pollution is increasing due to accumulation of domestic waste. There is a need to work according to a well-planned strategy. Most food in household waste is organic waste; to control it, we must store our food more efficiently in the fridge. In this way, we can reduce the waste of food as well as reduce the production of organic waste and prevent these harmful substances from getting into the soil.
- Proper disposal of industrial waste
Chemical pollutants are found in large quantities in industrial wastes, which have a large role in polluting the soil. There is a need to make strict rules for proper disposal of industrial waste and ensure strict adherence to them. The garbage from the factories should be sent to the purifying plants first and they should be immersed only after proper treatment.
- Recycling and Reuse
To reduce the production of soil pollutants, it is necessary that we focus on the recycling and reuse of the items. For example, if you want to throw furniture or other properties from your house in the trash, then you should also look for prospects through which you can modify and reuse that furniture.
Like the furniture, we can recycle many waste products in the house, and we can reduce the production of garbage and prevent soil pollution. By throwing domestic waste into landfill sites, we unintentionally increase the amount of carbon in the soil, which is a major factor in soil pollution. Recycling and re-use for the protection of soil is very important. "Soil pollution and Contamination"
- Limit the use of chemicals in life and adopt Integrated Pest Management.
- In the place of chemical fertilizers, the fundamental properties of soil should be strengthened by adopting Integrated Plant Nutrient Management.
- Use of chemicals like gypsum and pyrites as suggested by scientists for the improvement of salinity-rich soil.
- The construction and implementation of the schemes required to protect the land which is destroyed by floods is essential.
- Soil erosion should be prevented by banning forest erosion and adopting soil conservation systems to protect its nutrients.
- In order to overcome the water logging in farms, arrangements for drainage are very essential.
- Land use regulations including zoning can reduce the problem of land erosion.
- It is absolutely essential to focus on land utilization and crop management.
Human activities are responsible for the majority of the soil pollution. We as humans buy things that are harmful and not necessary, use agricultural chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.), drop waste here and there. Without being aware we harm our own environment.
Therefore, it is very important to educate people around you the importance of environment if they are not aware. Thus, it is our small steps and activities that can help us to achieve a healthier planet for us. Therefore, it is essential for industries, individuals and businesses to understand the importance of soil and prevent soil pollution and stop the devastation caused to plant and animal life. "Soil pollution and Contamination"