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The Importance of Soil Pollution

Soil pollution can not only inhibit the growth of gardens and lawns, but it can also present a danger to people and animals exposed to the loose soil. Because it takes so long for soil pollutants to decay, the soil may remain contaminated long after the pollution source has been eliminated. Taking soil samples to a local college extension office or environmental agency for testing can prevent some dangerous side effects.
  1. Plant Growth

    • Many chemicals can pollute soil and have a negative impact on the development and growth of plants. Some contaminants, especially those released into the air from industrial facilities such as oil refineries and coal plants, can leach into the soil. From the soil, plants absorb the chemicals as they soak up water. This can result in dead leaves, leaf burn, stunted growth and, in cases of heavy contamination, even poisonous fruits and vegetables. Soil polluted with high levels of salt, a condition called salinization, can prevent plant growth altogether.

    Spread of Pollution

    • With the help of rain and gravity, soil pollution can quickly spread to other areas. When rain soaks into the soil, it can absorb chemicals and pollutants as it leaches through, carrying these chemicals into the groundwater. From there, the pollution can end up in drinking water or water reserves used for everything from watering gardens to washing cars.

      Alternately, when there is no rain, the wind can spread oil contaminants. Small particles of contaminated dirt and dust can be picked up and swept away--carried to areas that were not previously polluted. Lead dust, commonly found in soil around houses with chipping or peeling lead paint, can be carried by the wind to pollute areas thought to be lead-free.

    Health Issues

    • When garden plants grow on contaminated soil, they can produce fruits and vegetables that people shouldn't eat. The plants absorb the chemicals, but the plants do not break down and process chemicals the way they do nutrients. Children and animals can be even more susceptible to illness through contaminated plants than adults.

      Similarly, children and pets that play outside can be poisoned from contact with the soil itself. Pollutants like lead and mercury, as well as high levels of organic compounds like nitrogen and phosphorus, can be directly ingested or tracked inside on shoes and paws, presenting a health risk for the entire family. Continued exposure to soil contaminated with lead can cause serious health issues, such as high blood pressure and nervous-system disorders in adults, as well as learning disabilities in children.

    Ecosystem Balance

    • Soil pollution can destroy the balance of an entire ecosystem. This can happen when a gardener or farmer applies too much fertilizer too often. It is of the utmost importance to always follow fertilizer directions and test soil for nutrient content first.

      Improper application of fertilizer can result in the buildup of nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil. This high level of nutrients often results in the accelerated growth of bacteria and algae. When the pollution leaches from the soil into the groundwater or is transfered to ponds and lakes through runoff, it can result in a process called eutrophication. Algae grows out of control, forming a layer on the water's surface called algae blooms. These blooms block sunlight from other plants and animals, slowly killing everything else that shares the water. If this process is not stopped, lakes and ponds can slowly be converted into wetlands, and then into dry land.