What Is Soil Pollution?
Soil pollution results from the build up of contaminants, toxic compounds, radioactive materials, salts, chemicals and cancer-causing agents. The most common soil pollutants are hydrocarbons, heavy metals (cadmium, lead, chromium, copper, zinc, mercury and arsenic), herbicides, pesticides, oils, tars, PCBs and dioxins.
Until the 1970s, there was little talk of soil pollution and its devastating effects. In the 1980s, the U.S. Superfund was created to set guidelines for the handling of hazardous material and soil contamination cleanup. Today there are more than 200,000 sites awaiting EPA soil cleanup, which is very expensive and labor-intensive work. Even a small cleanup project can cost $10,000, while larger areas require millions of dollars to clean it up for future use.
Causes of Soil Pollution
1. Following WWII and Vietnam, scientists discovered high incidences of mutation, miscarriage, mental defects, cancer and sickness in areas where nuclear warheads had been dropped. Food shortages also alerted officials that something was seriously wrong with the local soil. DDT and Dioxin were two of the worst pollutants from war aftermath.
In some cases, agricultural processes cause soil pollution. High levels of radionuclides like nitrogen and phosphorus can be found surrounding farm centers containing high population densities of livestock. Pesticides applied to plants can also seep into the ground, leaving lasting effects. Heavy metals can arrive in the soil by using polluted water to wet crops and by using mineral fertilizers.
Industry is to blame for some of the biggest soil-pollution disasters. Heavy metals come from iron, steel, power and chemical manufacturing plants that recklessly use the Earth as a dumping ground for their refuse. Plants that burn their waste on-site are guilty of releasing heavy metals into the atmosphere, which come to settle in the soil, thus leaving behind lasting effects for years to come. Even companies that try to dispose of their waste properly contribute to the problem when faulty landfills and bursting underground bins leach undesirable toxins into the soil.
Mining leaves a tremendous impact on the surrounding communities. The 2001 West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey found that people living near mines have a 70 percent higher risk of kidney disease, 64 percent higher risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a 30 percent higher risk of high blood pressure. "People in coal-mining communities need better access to health care, cleaner air, cleaner water, and stricter enforcement of environmental standards," concluded Michael Hendryx, Ph.D., associate director of the WVU Institute for Health Policy Research.
Testing for Soil Pollution
Photo by Ellis Vener
Before purchasing land for development or inhabiting, it's important to have a soil test performed to ensure a sound investment. A soil test can reveal the presence of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, molybdenum and aluminum. It can also analyze soil acidity, electrical conductivity, organic matter, moisture content, and identify dangerous soil contaminants like benzene, petroleum hydrocarbons, xylene and toulene. Even if the soil is in fine condition for planting, landowners can use their soil tests to make more informed decisions regarding fertilizers and crop growing. Most people call in a local professional to do the job, although stores like Home Depot and Lowe's are now selling do-it-yourself mail-in kits as well.
Case Studies of Soil Pollution
3. Love Canal is perhaps the most famous case study of soil pollution. In the snowy winter of 1976, chemical waste began to seep above ground in school playgrounds and communities in Niagara Falls, New York. The area suffered high incidences of stillborn births, miscarriages and birth...