Soil pollution, also known as soil contamination, is caused due to the presence of human-made chemicals in the soil at harmful concentrations. Common soil contaminants include heavy metals, solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons, pesticides, and herbicides. Some of the detrimental effects of soil pollution are described below.
Soil Pollution Compromises the Health of Crop and Plants
Healthy soil is essential to the growth of good quality crops and other plants. When plants grow in polluted soil, the yield is negatively impacted in terms of both quantity and quality. Many plants are unable to grow on contaminated soil due to pH changes or other changes in soil composition. Microbes living in the soil also die, which can cause areas with contaminated soil to become wastelands with little or no plant growth. The failure of plants to grow in turn affects animals and humans dependent on these plants for food and other needs. Thus, the entire food chain suffers as a result of soil contamination.
Soil Pollution Leads to Air and Water Contamination
When soil becomes highly polluted, plants fail to grow. As a result, the soil becomes vulnerable to the erosional forces of both wind and water. Wind can pick up the soil contaminants, which remain in the air as suspended contaminants. Rainfall washes soil pollutants into nearby water bodies, and these toxic substances render the water unfit for consumption and domestic use. Agricultural runoff that is rich in pesticides and insecticides used in agriculture also end up in water bodies when farmland soil is eroded by rainwater. Thus, soil pollution can lead to air pollution and water pollution.
Soil Pollution Adversely Impacts the Health of Living Organisms
The impacts of soil contamination described above also have negative effects on the health of animals and humans. Plants grown in polluted soil usually absorb the contaminants, which eventually enter the human body directly by consumption of such plants or through the food chain. Animals that depend on such plants as a food source also suffer. The contaminants can also enter the human or animal body through direct inhalation. Pollution might also infiltrate the soil layer and enter groundwater aquifers used for drinking water. The health effects of soil contaminants depend on a variety of factors, such as the nature of the pollutant, mode of attack, and vulnerability of the exposed population. Some contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, and herbicides might be carcinogenic in nature, while other chemicals can lead to congenital disorders. The health effects of exposure to soil contaminants can also lead to liver toxicity, kidney failure, and neurological disorders.