Causes and consequences of soil contamination

Soil pollution

La soil contamination or alteration of the quality of the land is due to different causes and its consequences usually cause serious problems that affect flora, fauna or human health over a long period of time.

Through agriculture it is one of the means by which the ecosystem is unbalanced, contaminating drinking water or irrigation water, which means that this problem cannot always be solved and sometimes only part of the damage can be recovered. provoked in the area. But, what causes contribute to soil contamination and how can it be solved?

Causes of soil contamination

Soil and water contamination by human spillage

The causes of soil contamination are varied, an example is toxic substances under the ground that end up contaminating groundwater which will then be used to irrigate, drink or end up poisoning us through the food chain. A process that manages to inadvertently contaminate both ourselves and everything that surrounds us, and the biggest problem is that it will take quite a few generations to remedy what we have caused in this attempt to produce massively without thinking about what will come after. of us.

Contact with the polluted area is not always direct. It is what happens when they are buried toxic substances underground and these end up contaminating groundwater that is then used to irrigate, drink or end up poisoning us through the food chain, by eating fish, poultry or any other contaminated animal.

polluted water from the love canal

The erroneous storage of waste, its intentional or accidental dumping (such as the Ercros company in Flix), the accumulation of garbage on its surface or the burial of the same (many landfills in Spain), as well as leaks in tanks or deposits due to breakdowns, poor infrastructure are some of its main causes.

Consequences of soil contamination

And, we don't just stay here since the list is enlarged with "minor" problems such as radioactive leaks, intensive use of pesticides, mining, chemical industry or the same construction materials that are used today without us realizing the impact they have.

Landfills in Spain

The little attention that Spain pays to recycling and caring for the environment is today a source of shame before the European Union, but it threatens to become a source of millionaire fines in the next years. Brussels has very ambitious recycling plans: in 2020, all its member countries will have to recycle 50% of their waste, and the Commission is about to approve reaching 70% in 2030. However, Spain hardly recycles today 33% of your waste and the progression is minimal. Not even the most optimistic expect that our country will fulfill its duties within three years.

millions of tons of plastic waste are generated each year

The first wake-up call has already come in the form of a double judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which condemns Spain for the existence and absolute abandonment of 88 uncontrolled landfills. The first was issued in February 2016 and identified 27 landfills that were either still active or were not sealed after closure. The second arrived just a few days ago and puts its finger on another 61 landfills, 80% of which are distributed between the Canary Islands and Castilla y León.

Waste that accumulates on various beaches

According to various experts, landfills are time-lag bombs. Once closed, they must be environmentally controlled for 30 years, monitoring groundwater and atmospheric emissions, because decomposition processes are not stopped by sealing the hole.

Many legal enclosures are covered by a three-millimeter layer of polyethylene, with a clay barrier in the best cases, but they are often punctured by gas and ground movements. «They are a public health hazard. Administrations hide from the fact that many contain only inert waste, but be very careful with those demolition and construction materials, such as asbestos or lead pipes, which have been shown to they are carcinogenic»

Dumping soil contamination and the problems that come with it

Ercros spill in Flix

The Flix reservoir, in the Catalan province of Tarragona, has witnessed more than a century of spills and soil contamination with persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemical substances by a chemical factory of the Ercros company. This has led to contamination generalized river Ebro, from that point to the mouth.

Pollutants include heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium, or toxic and persistent organochlorine compounds such as hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or DDT and their metabolites.

“Ercros, considered the most polluting chemical facility on the Ebro river, has been battling for years to avoid paying for the cleaning of the river, which in turn is an important source of drinking water. The Ercros factory is located near the town of Flix, which gives its name to the reservoir affected by the contamination of Ercros SA, formerly Erkimia, where it manufactures and sells basic products for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.


Long list

Unfortunately, the list is much longer, almost infinite. We can cite many other equally important causes, such as mining (materials such as mercury, cadmium, copper, arsenic, lead), chemical industry, radioactive leaks, heavy use of pesticides, pollution from combustion engines, fumes from industry, building materials, burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), old sewer in bad condition among others.

air quality in barcelona decreases due to pollution from vehicles

We can see that there is an immense variety of sources of soil contamination, the causes to many times they are hard to find, since pollutants can reach plants or animals or contaminate water in many different ways, but not always they are trivial.

contaminated water, treatment plants help to solve the problem

In harsh reality is that there are so many causes, which in general terms causes uneasiness in trying to find out what they are, since it is a difficult task. It is as if in our house we had 20 leaks and we could not see where they are and how to eradicate or repair them. The problem that here is not our house, it is our own planet that is at stake

Another of the great problems is that there are so many causes, which in general terms causes uneasiness in trying to find out what they are, since it is a difficult task. It is as if in our house we had 20 leaks and we could not see where they are and how to eradicate or repair them. The problem that here is not our house, it is our own planet that is at stake.

Types of waste

Dangerous products: Cleaning products, paints, medicines and batteries are highly toxic. These products need a specific collection campaign that does not end up in uncontrolled landfills where they can cause environmental catastrophes by polluting water and soil.

Stacks are one of the most dangerous toxic products for its mercury and cadmium content. When the batteries are exhausted and accumulated in landfills or incinerated, the mercury is allowed to escape, and sooner or later goes into the water. Mercury is absorbed by plankton and algae, from these to fish and from these to man. A button cell can contaminate 600.000 liters. of water. Medicines have toxic components that can also seep into landfills and enter the water, contaminating it.


  • Domiciliary: garbage from homes and / or communities.
  • Industrial: its origin is the product of the manufacturing or transformation process of the raw material.
  • Hospitable: wastes that are generally classified as hazardous waste and can be organic and inorganic.
  • Commercial: from fairs, offices, shops, etc., and whose composition is organic, such as remains of fruits, vegetables, cardboard, papers, etc.
  • Urban waste: corresponding to populations, such as park and garden waste, useless urban furniture, etc.
  • Space junk: satellites and other artifacts of human origin that, while in Earth orbit, have already exhausted their useful life.
plastic waste polluting the coasts and seas
Related article:
Plastic waste in the sea is a serious environmental problem

Consequences of soil contamination

La soil contamination represents a series of consequences and harmful effects both for man, as well as for flora and fauna in general. The wide variety of toxicological impacts is highly dependent on each particular substance with which the health of the soil has been degraded.

The first consequence This pollution affects the vegetation, the plants are degraded and the variety of species is considerably reduced, those that still survive will present weak aspects and their natural process will be difficult.

Soil contamination hinders the development of the life of the faunaWithout food or clean water, species migrate or suffer irreparable damage in their procreation chain. With this process then what is called "landscape degradation" and therefore a "loss in land value”, The agricultural activities stop, the fauna disappears and the land is useless.

The loss of quality of the land involves a series of negative consequences ranging from its devaluation, as we have just said, even the impossibility of use to build, cultivate or, simply and simply, to house a healthy ecosystem.

garbage and its consequences

The consequences can be suffered silently, causing a constant trickle of victims, either human or animal and plant species.

A clear example was the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, or the most recent radioactive leak from the Japanese power plant de Fukushima, since soil contamination has affected agriculture, livestock and fishing. It has even been found radioactive debris off the coast from Fukushima, specifically on the earthy seabed from those same spills, according to various studies by the Institute of Industrial Sciences of the University of Tokyo, the University of Kanazawa and the National Research Institute.

spills and the attempt to control them

On the other hand, along with a logical deterioration of the landscape due to the impoverishment of the ecosystem, often an irreversible loss, soil contamination implies Millionaires loses by preventing the exploitation of this natural environment by the indigenous population or industrial investors.

abandonment due to contamination, how is chernobyl

Chernobyl 30 years later

In 30 years since the Chernobyl nuclear accident, communism fell, the Soviet Union dissolved, and there were even two revolutions and a still latent and unfinished war in Ukraine.

In terms of historical time, it seems that the world has turned more than necessary since that tragic morning, in which a group of technicians blew up reactor number four of the power plant Vladimir Lenin, despite the fact that they were doing a test that was supposed to reinforce their security.

But for the environment - the air, the water, the ground plus everything that lived and will live in it - it is as if the hands of the clock have literally not moved. The Radioactive soil contamination takes thousands of years to degrade. So three decades are nothing when it comes to the world's worst nuclear disaster.

chernobyl today (ghost town)

Chernobyl is still present in forest fruits and mushrooms, in milk and milk products, in meat and fish, in wheat. And in the wood that is used to make a fire and in the ashes that remain afterwards. In other words, in the health of all people. The responsible thing - even today - would be to go to the market with a Geiger counter, those little machines that make a maddening noise when they approach radioactivity, to know if the products that you will take to your table have the necessary degree of security to be ingested. 

Animals near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Solutions to soil pollution

Prevention is the best solution of all, teach the youngest to contribute. From throwing out the trash in your place to participating in clean-up drives in the community.

children recycling, prevention is the best against contamination in the soil

But it is also true that you cannot always (and do not want to) avoid soil contamination. Sometimes accidents occur, making it difficult to control, when not impossible.

If we go directly to the root of the problem, a drastic change in the production model or a prohibition of certain practices as an activity of certain industries that produce toxic waste, mining extraction, the use of artificial fertilizers based on oil.

Unfortunately, these options are nothing more than a dream. Therefore, in the face of fait accompli, solutions are sought that range from cleaning the area to the simple delimitation of the damaged area and the prohibition of its use for certain activities. In severe cases, such as Fukushima or Chernobyl, the affected areas are not suitable for human life.

Chernobyl after 30 years

And, since pollution has increased in recent decades as a result of industrialization and urban development, the solutions come precisely from the control of these sources. Habitually, actions are focused on improving recycling plants to reduce the contamination of the soil and, at the same time, of the water, since it ends up polluting it.

Ecovidrio and the advantages of recycling

Soil bioremediation is a strategy that seeks to restore contaminated ecosystems using living beings, such as bacteria, plants, fungi ... Depending on the type of contamination that you want to combat, one or another agent will be used bioremediator. Its application is wide, with interesting results in soils contaminated by radioactivity or, for example, by mining activities.

As good practices, an adequate recycling of garbage and waste treatment, the implementation of renewable energies, the treatment of industrial and domestic waste or the promotion of ecological agriculture would help to keep the soils free of pollution. Maintain sewage networks in good condition and improve wastewater treatment, as well as the treatment of industrial discharges that are returned to nature.

solar energy and all its benefits

Other possible solutions to consider would be:

Have a good public transport network

People use cars not only for convenience, but also because of how difficult it is to get around by public transport in many cities. If governments invest in more efficient public transport, people will be less reluctant to use it

public transport in barcelona

Using electric cars

Electric cars are already becoming more common in cities and, thanks to the fact that they are powered exclusively by electricity, they do not release any type of emission into the environment. While the autonomy used to be a problemToday, electric car batteries last longer, and it is possible to find charging stations in different parts of the cities.

Electric car and all the benefits that come with it

Avoid having your car running too long when stopping

A measure that you can take right now. Avoid standing still with your car running, since in those moments the vehicle uses a good amount of fuel, with its respective emissions

Keep your vehicle in good condition

A malfunctioning car tends to pollute more. If you carry out the corresponding maintenance on your vehicle, you make sure not only to avoid operating problems, but also to reduce the emission of gases

cars pollute cities

Help prevent deforestation

To avoid soil contamination, deforestation measures must be carried out at a rapid pace. Plant trees. Soil erosion is caused when there are no trees to prevent the top layer of the soil from being transported by different agents of nature, such as water and air.

Opt more for organic products.

There is no doubt that organic products are expensive compared to chemicals. But the choice of organic products will encourage a more organic production. This will help you in preventing soil contamination.

Plastic bags

Use cloth bags. Avoid consuming plastic bags as they take longer to disintegrate. Luckily since they have to pay their consumption has dropped drastically.

causes pollution

Correct sorting of waste

We would have to classify the garbage according to its composition:

  • Organic waste: all waste of biological origin, that was once alive or was part of a living being, for example: leaves, branches, husks and residues of the manufacture of food at home, etc.
  • Inorganic residue: any waste of non-biological origin, of industrial origin or of some other non-natural process, for example: plastic, synthetic fabrics, etc.
  • Dangerous residues: any waste, whether of biological origin or not, that constitutes a potential hazard and therefore must be treated in a special way, for example: infectious medical material, radioactive waste, acids and corrosive chemicals, etc.

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  1.   Delilah Rolon del Puerto said

    Very interesting, educational, it seems to me that this work should be made known to educational centers, because that is where we must insist on the chain of causes and effects! Thank you, it makes it very easy for me to find someone to support my
    continuous work to raise awareness.

    1.    Manuel Ramirez said

      You're welcome, Delilah!

  2.   emily_pro said

    how crazy 🙂

  3.   Celso said

    We will see the effects of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in the future, and it will be really serious. All for not having followed the safety recommendations. Another important case is the contamination of marine life with oil spills. Good article, necessary to raise awareness among people.

    1.    Manuel Ramirez said

      Thanks again! :=)

  4.   little cony said

    Your explanation is very interesting

    1.    Manuel Ramirez said

      Thank you! A big greeting!

  5.   little cony said

    I give it a 1000

  6.   Miguel said

    Thank you, you helped me with my homework.

  7.   sofi said

    I did not like

  8.   luismi said

    very good this report keep it up to see if we can all become aware of the damage we are causing

  9.   rosyela saldana villacorta said

    the causes of the report were:
    the toxic substances under the ground
    intentional or accidental spills
    reactive leaks

  10.   rgqreg said

    Hello. very good explanation ...

  11.   micha2012m said

    the causes cause coughing of the animals

  12.   green wheel said

    It is very interesting that they teach it in this great article, recycling can save our mountains, cities, rivers and seas.
    We must instill in our environment the value of recycling.