Energy Tech Tips Community

by Limus Woods

Understanding the main components of soil is key to recognizing how soil pollution impacts its ability to grow food. The top level is made up of all types of organic matter, such as grass and larger plants. Directly beneath that is what is called topsoil. Below topsoil is a wide, thick level called subsoil, which lies above the bedrock. While mineral matter makes up 45% of soil, The experts say only about 5% is composed of organic matter. The other 50% of soil is composed of a mixture of air and water.

Maintaining healthy soil is crucial to meeting the world’s demand for naturally grown food. Faced with all sorts of threats, arable (or farmable) soil across the world is disappearing at an alarming rate. The University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures pointed out that over the last four decades we’ve lost just over 30% of all of our food producing soil on the Earth. Soil pollution like this is often a preventable tragedy, but many people do not understand the effects of putting soil at risk.

Causes of Soil Pollution

Soil pollution occurs when toxic chemicals and highly concentrated pollutants find their way into soil and threaten animal and plant life. There is concern that if soil pollution keeps spreading at the fast rate that it is, we simply may not have enough food to feed ourselves because of it. Hazardous toxic wastes from septic systems, the automotive industry, and hospitals all find their way into soil,  greatly contributing to worldwide soil pollution. Many people don’t even know that they are creating this type of waste when they throw out and don’t recycle old batteries or computer equipment that they use every day at home. A lot of soil pollution can be traced to the agriculture industry. While farmers depend on healthy soil, often time toxins end up in the fertilizers that they use to feed their crops. This often unregulated abuse of the environment harms soil and threatens its future fertility and our access to food.

Another factor that can easily be prevented, but still contributes greatly to soil pollution across the world, is poor management of soil. Our soil’s fertility rate is decreasing at a rapid pace due largely to poor practices of so many farmers who raise livestock and grow food in an environmentally careless manner. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is now reviewing the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Techniques (WOCAT), a project that was started in 1992. The main goal of the program is to continuously promote the blending of better soil and water conservation techniques because, according to the FAO, “farm labour, productivity, and revenues from agriculture are falling, migration to urban areas is increasing, and rural poverty is exacerbated (FAO 2017)”. Fuel leakage is another huge threat to the health of our soil. Too many industry leaders aren’t taking the necessary steps to help eliminate this worldwide problem. 

Effects of Soil Pollution

The most immediately damaging effect of soil pollution is the decreased fertility of soil. Threaten humans globally, especially those with poor access to clean irrigation or imported food sources. For many people, farming is the only way to put food on their tables and money in their pockets. Soil pollution is a large threat to the livelihoods of those who rely on agriculture.  Whether we’re eating organic fruits and vegetables or livestock animals are grazing on contaminated grass, all living things are affected. 

The erosion of soil also has a devastating effect on the environment. According to studies from Cornell University, much of our farmable soil is being washed away up to 40 times faster than it’s being put back. Experts suggest that to reduce the erosion process, farmers should use cover crops when the edible crops are not being grown. Toxic dust is another side effect of soil pollution that hurts urban populated areas. It’s created when landfills release toxic gases into the atmosphere. Toxic dust causes illness and when humans are exposed to it for long periods of time it can cause chronic health problems, affect your body’s genetic makeup, and can cause birth defects in children.