Soil Pollution : Causes & Control

 What is soil pollution

v Preface

With the rise of concrete buildings and roads, one part of the Earth that we rarely see is the soil. It has many different names, such as dirt, mud, and ground. However, it is definitely very important to us. However, like all other forms of nature, soil also suffers from pollution. The pollution of soil is a common thing these days, and the main reason why the soil becomes contaminated is due to the presence of man-made waste.

v Definition (What is Soil Pollution?)

According to Environmental Pollution Centers, soil pollution is, “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.”

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v Causes (sources) of soil pollution

Soil pollution can be natural or due to human activity. However, it mostly boils down to the activities of the human that causes the majority of soil pollution such as heavy industries, or pesticides in agriculture.

1. Industrial Activity

Industrial activity has been the biggest contributor to the problem in the last century, especially since the amount of mining and manufacturing has increased. Most industries are dependent on extracting minerals from the Earth.

Whether it is iron ore or coal, the by-products are contaminated, and they are not disposed of in a manner that cannot be considered safe. As a result, the industrial waste lingers in the soil surface for a long time and makes it unsuitable for use.

2. Agricultural Activities

The utilization of chemicals has gone up tremendously since technology provided us with modern pesticides and fertilizers. They are full of chemicals that are not produced in nature and cannot be broken down by it. As a result, they seep into the ground after they mix with water and slowly reduce the fertility of the soil.

Other chemicals damage the composition of the soil and make it easier to erode by water and air. Plants absorb many of these pesticides, and when they decompose, they cause soil pollution since they become a part of the land.

2.1 Pesticides

Before World War II, the chemical nicotine chemical present in the tobacco plants was used as the pest controlling substance in agricultural practices. However, DDT was found to be extremely useful for malaria control and as pest control of many insects during World War II. Therefore, it was used for controlling many diseases.

Hence, post-war, people started using it as pest control in agriculture for killing rodents, weeds, insects, etc and avoiding the damages due to these pests. Moreover, pests became resistance to DDT due to the chemicals regular use.

Hence this led to the introduction of other harmful chemicals such as Aldrin and Dieldrin. 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.

2.2 Chlorinated Organic toxins

The harmful effect of DDT and other chemicals led to the introduction of less persistent organic and more-biodegradable substance such as carbamates and organophosphates. However, these chemicals act as harmful toxins for nerves, hence they are more dangerous to humans. It led to pesticides related to the death of field workers in some agricultural fields.

2.3 Herbicides

Slowly, the industries began production of herbicides like sodium arsenite (Na3AsO3), sodium chlorate (NaClO3), etc. 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.

2.4 Inorganic Fertilizers

Excessive use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers leads to acidification of soil and contaminate the agricultural soil. Also known as agrochemical pollution.

2.5 Inferior Irrigation Practices

Poor irrigation methods increase the soil salinity. Moreover, excess watering, improper maintenance of canals and irrigation channels, lack of crop rotation and intensive farming gradually decreases the quality of soil over time and cause degradation of land.

3. Waste Disposal

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.

4. Accidental Oil Spills

Oil leaks can happen during the storage and transport of chemicals. This can be seen at most of the fuel stations. The chemicals present in the fuel deteriorates the quality of soil and make them unsuitable for cultivation. These chemicals can enter into the groundwater through the soil and make the water undrinkable.

5. Acid Rain

Acid rain is caused when pollutants present in the air mix up with the rain and fall back on the ground. The polluted water could dissolve away some of the essential nutrients found in soil and change the structure of the soil.

6. Urban Activities

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.

 

v Possible Solutions to Soil Pollution

1. Reduced Use of Chemical Fertilizers

Chemical fertilizers do more harm than good. While proper amounts could enhance the fertility of the soil, excess of it actually poisons the soil. The excess of chemical fertilizers could pollute the soil in several ways. It could mess with the pH levels of the soil. It could also destroy the good microorganisms in the soil. Not only that, but the runoffs from such soils also cause water pollution as well. Thus using chemical fertilizers is like a double-edged sword.

2. Reforestation and Afforestation Should be Promoted

One of the major causes of soil pollution is soil erosion that is caused due to deforestation. It is natural that with the ever-growing population, the humankind needs more and more space to expand their civilization. Often it is achieved at the cost of the health of the soil. To prevent this from happening, reforestation of a deforested area should be promoted.

Also, afforestation should be promoted in the barren lands. The roots of the plants bind the soil particles together and even capture good microorganisms in the soil. It also ensures the maintenance of the underground water table.

3. Recycle and Reuse Products

These steps not only reduce waste generation but also ensure that soil pollution is reduced. At present, plastic forms a significant portion of the generated wastes. More often than not, these wastes are buried in landfills. In these landfills, these plastics and other materials decompose slowly and release toxic materials into the soil. These toxic substances are very harmful to the health of the soil and are a major source of soil pollution.

By reusing and recycling things, we would ensure that lesser wastes are dumped in these landfills, and this, in turn, would reduce soil pollution.

4. Get the Locals Involved

In order to ensure that a problem like soil pollution is solved, it is essential that every individual must get involved. It is with their involvement that things can work out better. Awareness programs could be designed so that people understand soil pollution better. If people are aware, they will help even subconsciously.

5. Promote Use of Natural Manure

Natural manure is one of the best sources of nutrients for the soil. It is harmless and completely organic. It adds essential nutrients to the soil and restores the health of the soil. It has no harmful by-products that could harm the soil or the environment in any way.

v Deduction

Soil pollution is a complex problem that ought to be solved. It is essential that we all realize how important soil is for us. The earlier we realize, the better we will be able to solve the problem of soil pollution. It is a complex problem, and thus, it requires everyone, from an individual to the government, to work in complete unison.

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