Soil is a vital natural resource that is beneficial to all living organisms. For example, it provides anchorage to plants through their roots and is home to billions of microorganisms, thereby contributing to biodiversity (Schoonover & Crim, 2015). There are many soil pollution sources, including point and nonpoint ones, both of which effects are severe to all living organisms. Although soil has many benefits, it continues to be contaminated from various sources, which causes many adverse effects.
The Sources of Soil Contamination
Soil contamination is an invisible affliction when pollutants’ concentration on the surface rises to levels that harm the land’s biodiversity. It can also endanger health, primarily through food consumption in all living organisms. Industrialized nations across the world are contaminated by dangerous elements such as arsenic and lead. Some of the worst-hit regions are Europe, North America, Euroasia, Asia, and North Africa (MacDonald & Ingersoll, 2002). There are two primary sources of soil contamination: point source and nonpoint source soil pollution.
Point source soil pollution is any contaminant, which enters the environment from a confined and easily identifiable place. They include drainage ditches, discharge pipes, industrial waste discharges, stormwater discharges, and smokestacks (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 1999). The nonpoint sources include croplands runoff, solid-waste sites, storage sites, manufacturing sites, and livestock pens. Runoff can wash sediment from roads in a forest tract, which has been logged over, which is rather common in rural areas. Acid from abandoned industrial and commercial properties can also be swept over, and fertilizer and pesticides flushed from farm fields (MacDonald & Ingersoll, 2002). All this contamination could penetrate lakes, rivers, and streams.
Conversely, nonpoint sources are harder to identify and even address since such pollution comes from various places all at the same time. In many terrestrial environments, soil erosion linked to nonpoint source contamination is a process of land degradation. The Ministry of Environment (2009) states that the dangerous substances deposited on the earth’s surface can harm human health and well-being and affect air quality, water, and food. Therefore, point source soil contamination can easily be reduced through the regulation of human activity.
The Effects of Soil Contamination
The effects of soil contamination can be felt by humans, animals, and the environment. Direct contact with contaminated soil is the most severe impact, and it may also come from food and water resulting from polluted topsoil. According to MacDonald and Ingersoll (2002), many of the soil contaminants are carcinogenic, exposing humans to the risk of developing cancer. Besides, even slightly polluted soil can cause harm to human beings. A less polluted soil may still directly endanger all living organisms through bioaccumulation (MacDonald & Ingersoll, 2002). It happens when plants are grown in contaminated soil, continuously absorbing the pollutants’ molecules. Therefore, there is a need to prevent soil contamination because of its adverse effects on humans, animals, and the environment.
The predator animal species can also be affected by soil contamination. This is because the contamination would affect the arthropods and microorganisms’ metabolism and even destroy certain layers of the major food chain (MacDonald & Ingersoll, 2002). Microorganisms in contaminated soil can also pass the contamination to the rest of the food chain. This may lead to animal extinction and increased mortality rates, which may create an imbalance in biodiversity.
Soil contamination naturally contributes to air contamination by releasing dangerous compounds into the air space. Thus, air pollution can also result from soil contamination (MacDonald & Ingersoll, 2002). Soil with highly accumulated heavy metals, such as mercury and lead, cannot support plant life. Moreover, increased soil salinity due to contamination makes it difficult for vegetation to grow. If certain crops succeed to grow under such conditions, they would be harmful and could cause health complications to those consuming them (MacDonald & Ingersoll, 2002). Therefore, these effects cause a significant threat to all organisms and biodiversity.
In summary, there are many sources of soil contaminants, and they pose a serious threat to human beings’ health, safety, and the environment. The dangerous effects on human beings range from less-significant physical symptoms to life-threatening ailments like cancer. Most countries have developed policies such as reforestation and controlled farming practices to help reduce soil contamination. Various regions should enforce environmental protection laws and adopt water-based management. Contaminated sediments do not only endanger wildlife but also seriously affect human beings.
Environmental Protection Agency. (1999). Introduction to contaminated sediments [PDF document]. Web.
MacDonald, D. D., & Ingersoll, C. G. (2002). A guidance manual to support the assessment of contaminated sediments in freshwater ecosystems [PDF document]. Web.
Ministry of Environment. (2009). An introduction to contaminated sites in British Columbia [PDF document]. Web.
Schoonover, J. E., & Crim, J. F. (2015). An introduction to soil concepts and the role of soils in watershed management. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 154(1), 21-47. Web.