What is soil pollution? What are the main causes of soil pollution?

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As humanity is progressing day by day, dealing with pollution is becoming an urgent need of the hour. Be it water pollution, air pollution, or soil pollution, the adverse effects of pollution can be seen taking a toll on all life forms on Earth.

What is pollution?

When foreign contaminants are introduced into the natural environment which in turn cause grave changes, it is known as pollution. There are different types of pollution threatening life on this planet. The components causing this pollution are known as pollutants. They can be either naturally occurring substances, or man-made. Pollution has been a part of mankind for time immemorial. Ever since man started clearing out forests by causing fires, pollution in the air took place. The Industrial Revolution paved the way for mankind for a better standard of living, but not without consequences. Waste materials from factories, when dumped into the water bodies, are a source of water pollution. Similarly, when harmful chemicals and contaminants are introduced to the soil, it leads to soil pollution. With the increase in the human population, soil pollution has become a topic of concern as the number of mouths to feed are increasing at a rapid rate, however, land with enough fertile soil suitable for cultivation is decreasing.  

What is soil pollution?

Human-made chemicals or other forms of pollutants present in the soil is known as soil pollution. Soil pollution leads to a lot of different health hazards, including damage to vital organs, damage to the central nervous system and even increase in the risk of cancer.

All kind of soil contain substances which are harmful to human beings and other living organisms. However, if the case of unpolluted soil, the level of these toxic chemicals is really low and hence do not pose any threat. But, then the level of these toxic chemicals rise beyond a certain level and becomes toxic, the soil is said to to be contaminated or polluted.

What are the main causes of soil pollution?

Soil pollution can be caused due to a lot of different factors. Some of them are:

Heavy Metals

Soil becomes extremely toxic when a high quantity of heavy metal is present in it. This kind of soil particularly becomes extremely toxic for human beings. Some of the different kinds of metals responsible for soil pollution are Arsenic, Mercury, Lead, Nickel, Zinc and Chromium along with other heavy metals which are also responsible for soil pollution. 

Soil pollution due to heavy metal can be caused due to activities such as mining, waste materials from hospitals and agriculture.

PAH or Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

Organic compounds made up of only carbon and hydrogen atoms and contain one or more aromatic ring structure-wise are known and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons. These components in the form of anthracene, naphthalene and phenalene cause a lot of problems when exposed to them. Cancer is one of the most common outcomes of exposure to these PAH’s. Along with cancer, they can also cause cardiovascular diseases.  

Soil pollution due to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons can be caused due to activities such as extraction of shale oil, coke processing and others.

Agricultural Practices

Pesticides are chemicals made in order to deal with pests. They are used to kill or prevent the growth of unwanted pests. Use of pesticides is one of the major causes of soil pollution.  Some of the most common types of pesticides are:

Insecticides: Insecticides are chemicals made to kill insects which harm crops. Larvicides and ovicides present in them are used to deal with larvae and eggs respectively. Organophosphates, Chlorinated hydrocarbons and Arsenic-containing compounds present in the insecticides harm the soil and contaminates it.

Fungicides: Fungicides are chemicals made to reduce the harmful effects of fungus in the crops. This Pesticide contains Mercury-containing compounds and Thiocarbamatesb which are highly harmful and toxic. 

Industrial Wastes

Untreated discharge of waste materials coming out of the factories in the soil results in soil pollution. Chlorinated industrial solvents and the manufacture of pesticides and the incineration of waste leading to Dioxide production are two major reasons behind soil pollution due to Industrial Waste. Among all the industries, the petroleum industry produces a lot of petroleum hydrocarbon wastes such as methylbenzene and benzene which are known to cause cancer.

What are the effects of soil pollution?

Soil pollution has various effects on different living beings. 

Effect on Human Beings

As soil is one of the most important natural resources human beings need to survive, soil pollution takes a massive toll on human beings and their health. Crops grown for consumption on polluted soil soaks up the pollution and further transfer it on to human beings. This leads to human beings getting affected by different diseases such as congenital illnesses and chronic health problems. Famines are other major effects of soil pollution on human beings. When the pollution is at such a high-level that even crops cannot be grown in it, famines become extremely common and leads to deaths which number up to hundreds and thousands. Farmers also end up cropless and lose their only method of income. 

Effect on Soil Fertility

As stated earlier, soil pollution at times reduces soil fertility to such an extent that even basic crops cannot be grown on them. This ultimately leads to barren lands which cannot be used anymore and are most of the time left empty. Once a fertile land becomes unusable due to pollution. 

Effect on Plants

When the soil gets polluted, the growth of plants also gets affected by it. The rapid change in the chemical composition of the soil makes it impossible for the plants to adapt to the new composition in such a short time, and in turn, often stunts their growth or kills them. This further leads to the problem of soil erosion. 

How can soil pollution be prevented?

Even though treating already polluted soil is quite difficult, prevention of further soil pollution can be done in a lot of different ways. Some of them are:

  • Removing already polluted soil to uninhabited locations
  • Heating up the soil so that the pollutants present in it vaporises and leaves the soil
  • Teach people living in rural areas on the dangers of soil pollution and how to prevent it, for example, teaching farmers the proper ways to use pesticide
  • By the process of reforestation, that is, by planting more and more trees as trees help bind the soil and prevent soil erosion.
  • Banning the release of untreated industrial waste into the soil
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