We explain what soil contamination is and what its causes and consequences are. Some examples and possible solutions.
What is soil pollution?
When we talk about soil contamination, as in the case of water and the atmosphere, we refer to the loss of its natural quality due to the presence of foreign substances, that change its chemical properties and make it incompatible with life, both natural (wild fauna and flora) and human (agriculture, gardening, etc.).
These pollutants can be liquid, solid or even gaseous, and often cause unpredictable or uncontrollable chemical reactions, contrary to the stability necessary for the development of life. Some of these pollutants are usually oil, pesticides and agrochemicals, industrial waste or garbage, when not radioactive substances or heavy metals, the result of industrial and energy work of the human being.
Some of the common symptoms of soil contamination have to do with the physical and observable presence of wastes, but especially with the absence of plant life (and sometimes animal), destruction n of the upper layers of the earth's crust or landscape degradation. All these symptoms usually lead to the deterioration of the health of the inhabitants of the area, when not to extinctions or animal migrations.
On the other hand, soil pollution usually spreads to other elements, such as water and air, since the rains “wash” the soil, taking all the polluting substances that will deteriorate to the rivers, seas and groundwater. Then other ecosystems.
It can serve you: Water Pollution.
Causes of soil contamination
As mentioned, soil pollution usually responds to the poor disposal of processed waste from the industrial, commercial or energy activity of the human being, such as plastics, chemicals, toxins or solvents. The extraction of hydrocarbons (and especially aggressive methods such as fracking ) is also an important source of soil damage and contamination.
In many cases, the origin of these substances is warlike, such as war mines or the material that scatter bombs of all kinds (explosives, incendiary, atomic, etc.), beyond the physical damage that the impact generates.
Other possible, although minority, sources of pollution that are not linked to human labor are volcanic eruptions, geological faults that expose heavy subsoil materials, or meteorite impacts.
Consequences of soil contamination
The main consequence of soil pollution has to do, as we said, with the loss of its fertility and its incompatibility with animal, plant and human life . Contaminated soils tend to remain sterile and empty during the time it takes for nature and the elements to clean toxic substances or break them down into other harmless elements, and even so the recovery of the soil will take time.
On the other hand, contaminated soils can see their water absorption capacity adulterated, producing unexpected floods or, on the contrary, withered soils and unsustainable pH (very acidic or very basic), which in the presence of waters give rise to toxic substances and mortal. This usually leads to the devastation of landscapes.
Solutions for soil pollution
Depending on the specific case, contaminated soils can be decontaminated, either by allowing time to pass until harmful elements are dissolved by rain or washed into other geographies, or by actively applying materials that counteract the toxic effect . Many of them are biological, such as microorganisms or plants, capable of fixing or degrading contaminants.
In general, however, prevention and responsibility in human activities is the best remedy for this matter.
Examples of soil contamination
Some examples of soil contamination are:
- After the explosion of the nuclear reactor of the Soviet city of Chernobyl in 1986, winds spread radioactive particles throughout the field, which transmitted the poison to the flora and all crops agricultural. The layers of radioactive soil had to be buried in huge pits to move them away from life on the surface. There are still uninhabitable and uncultivable areas, such as the city of Pr piat, Ukraine.
- Brazilian illegal miners, called garimpeiros, deteriorate the soil of the Amazon Rainforest in search of gold to sell. For this they use large jets of water that liquify the soil and also amounts of mercury, which poison the soil and water.
- In the Collstrop region in Denmark, entire soil segments were contaminated and rendered useless by arsenic and chromium between 1963 and 2007, when the matter was remedied using water treatment waste.