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What is Soil Pollution – Causes, Effects and Solutions

When abnormally high amounts of harmful compounds are present in the soil, it is referred to as soil pollution. Given the numerous health risks it contains, it is a severe environmental concern and hence a pertinent global issue. Therefore, candidates preparing for the Government Teaching Exams must study in detail about Soil pollution and the risks it poses and the possible solution to deal with it in the following article. A detailed understanding of this will help one ace the environmental studies and geography sections of government teaching examinations.

UGC NET Study Notes for Paper 1

What is Soil Pollution – Definition

It is crucial to know that all soils include substances that are hazardous or detrimental to humans and other living things. However, because of their low quantity in unpolluted soil, these compounds do not endanger the local environment. The soil is considered contaminated when the concentration of one or more of these harmful compounds is high enough to harm living things.

The root cause of soil pollution is usually one of the following:

  • Agriculture (high/improper use of pesticides)
  • Enormous industrial activity
  • Poor management or inefficient disposal of waste

The magnitude of soil pollution directly affects the difficulties involved in decontaminating the soil. The more contaminated an area is, the more resources are needed for cleanup.

Soil Pollution – Causes

Xenobiotics, or chemicals created by humans rather than occurring naturally in nature, are among the most dangerous soil contaminants. Greek words ‘Xenos’ (foreigner) and ‘Bios’ (life) are the origins of the word ‘xenobiotic’. Several xenobiotics are known to cause cancer.

The pollution can be categorized into two parts- Pollution caused by natural elements and Anthropogenic soil pollution (this is caused by human activity). In the following section, we will discuss both the natural and anthropogenic soil pollution in detail.

Natural Soil Pollution

Some contaminants naturally accumulate in soils in some incredibly rare ways. This might happen because soil is deposited differently by the atmosphere. Another way that this kind of soil contamination might happen is when:

  • Chemicals are carried by the water from precipitation.
  • The buildup of substances with the perchlorate anion (ClO4-) in some dry, arid habitats is an example of natural soil pollution.
  • Depending on the effects of the environment, some pollutants can naturally occur in the soil.
  • For instance, perchlorates can occur during a thunderstorm in soils that contain metals and chlorine.

Anthropogenic Soil

Most of the cases of soil pollution are anthropogenic in nature. A variety of human activities can lead to the contamination of soil. Some such processes are listed below.

  • The contamination of adjacent soil with asbestos during the demolition of historic structures is a possibility.
  • Lead-based paint usage during building activities has the potential to contaminate the soil with dangerous levels of lead.
  • The hydrocarbons in petroleum can pollute soils when petrol and diesel spill during transportation.
  • The dispersion of metallic pollutants into the neighbouring soils is frequently a result of activities connected to metal-casting plants (foundries).
  • Land can get contaminated with heavy metals as a result of underground mining operations.
  • Highly toxic industrial and chemical waste that is improperly disposed of can seriously damage the earth. For instance, the disposal of hazardous material in landfills may cause soil contamination. Groundwater may also become contaminated by this garbage.
  • Chemical pesticides include a number of dangerous ingredients.

Soil Pollution – Effects

A wide range of unfavourable effects caused by soil pollution harm humans, animals, plants, and the environment as a whole. Children are more vulnerable to diseases, so polluted soil is more dangerous to them. This subsection goes into detail about several significant implications of soil pollution.

Effects on Human Beings

There are certain short-term and long effects of human exposure to polluted soil. In the following table, candidates will find a detailed description of all the short-term and long-term Effects of Soil Pollution on Human Beings.

Effects of Soil Pollution on Human Beings
Short Term Effects  Long Term Effects
  • Headache, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Coughing, pain in the chest, and wheezing.
  • Irritation of the skin and the eyes.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Exposure to high levels of lead can result in permanent damage to the nervous system. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead.
  • Depression of the CNS (Central Nervous System).
  • Damage to vital organs such as the kidney and the liver.
  • Higher risk of developing cancer.

Effects on the Biodiversity

Through a process called bioaccumulation, plants grown in polluted soil may collect significant amounts of soil pollutants.

  • All the accumulated pollutants are transferred up the food chain when herbivores eat these plants.
  • This may cause numerous beneficial animal species to disappear or go extinct.
  • Additionally, these toxins have the potential to ascend the food chain and eventually appear as diseases in people.

Effects on the Ecosystem

A clear link between soil pollution and air and water pollution exists because volatile chemicals in soil can be blown into the sky by winds or seep into subsurface water reservoirs.

  • Additionally, it can cause acid rain by releasing a significant amount of ammonia into the environment.
  • Several microorganisms that enhance soil texture and help in the breakdown of organic materials are hostile to acidic soils.
  • The detrimental impacts of soil contamination also affect the texture and quality of the soil.

Soil Pollution – Solutions

In order to deal with soil pollution, several technologies have been created. The following is a list of some solutions used to clean up polluted soil.

  • Polluted soils are dug up and then transported to far-off, unpopulated areas. Thermal remediation is used to remove pollutants by forcing them into the vapour phase, where they can then be collected via a process called vapour extraction.
  • Plants and microorganisms are used in bioremediation and phytoremediation to clean up contaminated soil.
  • Fungi are used in mycoremediation to help heavy metal pollutants build up.

Soil pollution refers to the contamination of the Earth’s soil with harmful substances, adversely affecting its natural fertility, composition, and biodiversity. Human activities such as industrial waste disposal, agriculture, mining, and the use of agrochemicals have been major contributors to soil pollution.

Toxic chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, and improper waste management practices seep into the soil, posing significant risks to both environmental and human health. Mitigating soil pollution requires adopting sustainable agricultural practices, promoting proper waste disposal, and implementing stringent environmental regulations to safeguard this vital resource and ensure a healthier and sustainable future.

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What are the key causes of soil pollution?

Some common causes of soil pollution are improper disposal of industrial waste: industries are believed to be one of the leading causes of soil pollution due to improper management and disposal of the toxic wastes generated during industrial activities.

What are the effects of soil pollution on human health?

The contaminants found in polluted soil can enter human bodies through several channels such as the nose, the mouth, or the skin. Exposure to such soils can cause a variety of short-term health problems such as headaches, coughing, chest pain, nausea, and skin/eye irritation. Prolonged exposure to contaminated soil can lead to the depression of the central nervous system and damage to vital organs (such as the liver). Long-term exposure to polluted soils has also been linked to cancer in humans.

How can soil pollution be avoided?

Many crucial changes must be brought about in order to control soil contamination and soil pollution without making huge compromises on the economy. For example, the use of toxic substances in industrial activities can be avoided wherever suitable alternatives exist. Also, the recycling of waste products will also contribute to a reduction in soil contamination due to landfills. Promoting healthy agricultural practices such as the use of organic manure and organic farming methods can help reduce the number of chemical fertilizers used on agricultural soils. Efficient and limited use of chemical pesticides must also be advocated.

What is soil pollution?

Soil pollution refers to the contamination of the Earth's soil with harmful substances, leading to adverse effects on its natural fertility, composition, and biodiversity.

Are there natural sources of soil pollution?

Yes, some contaminants can naturally accumulate in soils through rare processes like atmospheric deposition and waterborne transport of chemicals. Natural soil pollution can also occur based on environmental conditions.

What are the short-term and long-term effects of soil pollution on humans?

Short-term effects of soil pollution on humans may include symptoms like headache, nausea, and skin irritation. Long-term exposure can lead to severe health issues, including damage to the nervous system, kidney and liver damage, and an increased risk of cancer.

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