Understanding Pollution: How Safe is Our Soil?

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Pollution affects many things in the world in which we live, but one thing that is not often talked about is the contamination of soil.  One of the reasons that soil pollution is not often talked about is the old saying “out of sight, out of mind.”  We live in a concrete jungle.  Sidewalks, roads, highways, houses, skyscrapers, and office buildings cover the soil that our ancestors were so familiar with.  The problem is that pretending a problem does not exist doesn’t make it go away.  There are many dangers to both the environment, our food supply, and ultimately us that are caused by soil contamination, and it has a myriad of sources from industry to products that we use without even thinking about it.

Soil contamination 1

Soil contamination is defined as “the presence of man-made chemicals or other alteration to the natural soil environment.”[i]  As you can imagine there are a great many manmade chemicals, and a large number of those chemicals have detrimental effects humans.  Since our food is grown is soil, if that soil is contaminated then the contaminants will find their way into whatever food in grown there  Just a few of the more common chemicals that are contaminating our soil are asbestos, heavy metals, such as lead, and finally pesticides.  Asbestos can cause scarring of the lungs in humans which in turn causes shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and coughing; all of which worsen as time passes, and it has also been labeled as a human carcinogen which means it can cause cancers.[ii]  Because asbestos particles are so small and invisible to the naked eye, and are so difficult to break up they spread invisibly through water, air, and soil.[iii]  Lead is quite possibly one of the most dangerous of soil contaminants.  In adults lead poisoning causes a loss of coordination, nerve damage to sensory organs, loss of hearing and vision, increased blood pressure, and problems with our reproductive systems.[iv]  In children the effects of exposure to lead are even worse.  Damage to the brain and nervous system, vision and hearing loss, liver damage, kidney damage, and even death are possible in children who have been exposed to lead.  Finally, we come to pesticides.  Because pesticides can be created from many different compounds there are many different effects that they can have on human health.  Some pesticides will increase the likelihood of cancer in humans, others will attack the endocrine system which is responsible for the secretion of hormones, and still others will attack the nervous system and our very ability to think and function.[v]

Soil contamination 2

One of the biggest problems of pesticides specifically, and other contaminants in general, is that they do not just kill their intended victims, but also any other small organisms which may be in the soil.[vi]  This is a bad thing because the soil requires those organisms in order to remain fertile ground for plants and more importantly the crops upon which we rely on for a stable supply of food.[vii]  If the soil is contaminated by any contaminant the possible yield, or amount of crops able to be grown, in a given area will go down.  This obviously is worrying because it affects the size of our food supply.  The food supply that has allowed us to settle down and build society as we know it as the dominant species on the planet.  When the contaminant is first introduced into the soil it will begin to kill off local fungi and bacteria.[viii]   That may seem like a good thing, but on a micro-organism level fungi and bacteria are the symbiotic glues that hold soil ecosystems together, and as they are destroyed the soil begins to erode.  Over time, the fertility of the soil will continue to go down further decreasing the size of the crops being grown there.  In addition, many plants that are grown in contaminated soil will be smaller than plants grown in non-contaminated soil.[ix]

Soil contamination 3

The sources of soil contamination are many and varied. One of the major causes of soil contamination is actually our famers.  As the world’s population has grown, and more and more food is needed to feed that population, farmers have begun to overuse fertilizers and pesticides and they are having a detrimental effect on the land upon which they are used.[x]  Another major contributor is the waste water from industrial plants and factories.[xi]  As that waste water is released into the environment it will contaminate not just the soil, but also any other water source that it comes into contact with.  A third major source is our sewage.  Think of what’s in the sewer.  Now, think about where our sewage ends up.  It at any point that sewage comes into contact with fertile soil it will leave something behind, and that soil will not be as fertile as it once was.  Then there is contamination from the waste produced by nuclear power plants, which are dumped underground, and leak and spread through the soil they are dumped into.[xii]

Soil contamination is a serious issue that affects not just the environment and human health, but also strikes at the backbone of civilization: agriculture.  The fact that we willfully use items such as pesticides, lead paints, and nuclear power shows that our society has reached a dangerous point where we must decide if we care about consequences.  It is not our children or our grandchildren who will have to deal with the problem of soil pollution.  That is, it is not them who will have to deal with it unless we decide that it is not worth our time.  The world in which we live has many problems, but there are solutions out there.  The solutions can begin to be found it just one thing is accomplish:  Making people care.


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About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Soil Contamination.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/s/soil_contamination.htm&gt;.

[ii] “Asbestos.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/asbestos.html&gt;.

[iii]“Asbestos Ecological Impacts: The Affects of Asbestos on the Environment on Human Health.” Bright Hub. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.brighthub.com/environment/science-environmental/articles/86213.aspx&gt;.

[iv] “Human Health and Lead.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/superfund/lead/health.htm&gt;.

[v] “Human Health Issues | Pesticides | US EPA.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/health/human.htm&gt;.

[vi] “Pesticides and Pollution.” Pesticides and Pollution. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.greenfootsteps.com/pesticides-and-pollution.html#sthash.LBwsNQax.dpbs&gt;.

[vii] “Pesticides and Pollution.” Pesticides and Pollution. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.greenfootsteps.com/pesticides-and-pollution.html#sthash.LBwsNQax.dpbs&gt;.

[viii] “Causes and Effects of Soil Pollution – Conserve Energy Future.” ConserveEnergyFuture. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-soil-pollution.php&gt;.

[ix] “Causes and Effects of Soil Pollution – Conserve Energy Future.” ConserveEnergyFuture. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-soil-pollution.php&gt;.

[x] “Causes and Effects of Soil Pollution – Conserve Energy Future.” ConserveEnergyFuture. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-soil-pollution.php&gt;.

[xi] “What Is Soil Contamination.” What Is Soil Contamination. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://eschooltoday.com/pollution/land-pollution/what-is-soil-contamination.html&gt;.

[xii] “Causes and Effects of Soil Pollution – Conserve Energy Future.” ConserveEnergyFuture. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-soil-pollution.php&gt;.

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Understanding Pollution: The True Impact of Pesticides

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Pesticides are a chemical that is designed to kill insects, and it is doing its job; sadly it is wiping out entire populations of animals and insects, and its effects on human health are quite severe as well.[i]   Pesticides are quite common, and you most likely have some in your home unless you buy only organically grown food. All food, unless it´s organically grown, is sprayed with pesticides, meaning that most fruit or vegetables you have are covered with a layer of pesticides which does not go away after a quick rinse. Apples, lettuce, potatoes and strawberries are some of the foods with the highest pesticide content.  Imagine spraying your food with insect spray before eating, that’s kind of what it´s like.  Also, if you’re a pet owner and your dog or cat has a flea collar, or you use bug spray you are using a pesticide.[ii] Every year, 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States alone, and 5.6 billion pounds are used worldwide; and it is estimated that worldwide 25 million agricultural workers are poisoned a year.[iii]  Pesticides are damaging not just human health, but are wiping out entire species.

Pesticides 1

Pesticides, for all of their supposed benefits to humanity, are made of extremely dangerous chemicals that have debilitating effects on humans.  In the United States alone 67000 people a year are hospitalized, and 27 die a year from pesticide poisoning.[iv]  There are three stages of pesticide poisoning, and they include Mild, Moderate, and Severe.[v]  Symptoms of mild pesticide poison are irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin, a headache, dizziness, a loss of appetite, thirst, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, a feeling of weakness or fatigue, a sense of restlessness and nervousness, unexplained changes in mood, and insomnia.[vi]  Those, as mentioned previously, are the MILD effects.  It’s quite a list, and things only get worse I’m afraid.  Moderate pesticide poisoning includes such effects as vomiting, excessive salivation, coughing, a feeling of constriction in the throat and chest, cramps in your abdomen, a blurring of your vision, rapidly increased pulse, excessive sweating, trembling throughout your body, a loss of muscle coordination, becoming confused, and a sense of extreme weakness throughout your body.[vii]  Still, we are not done. The severe effects of pesticides are an inability to breathe, a buildup of excessive mucous in your air passageways, pinpoint pupils, the appearance of chemicals burns on your skin, an increased rate of breathing, a loss of reflexes, the twitching of your muscles, unconsciousness, and ultimately, death.[viii]  The above effects are just the noticeable effects of pesticide poisoning.  Other, long term effects include an increased rate of cancer, the possibility of birth defects, the chance of damage to your genetic code, liver failure, and injury to the reproductive systems including sterility, and nerve damage.[ix]  We use pesticides in our yards, parks, and on our food supply…I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a good idea.

Pesticides 3

Pesticides effects on animal wildlife are even worse than those on humans, at least in terms of the long term effects on animal populations, and some 7 out of 10 biologists believe that we are in the middle of a great extinction of animals, partly due to pesticides.[x]  One of the most common pesticides in known as Atrazine, and more than 75 million pounds of it are used every year on farms in the United States.[xi]  Atrazine it is having a devastating effect on frog populations.  Did you ever see Jurassic Park?  In the movie they use frog DNA to complete the genetic chain of the dinosaurs.  All of the dinosaurs in the park were supposed to be female, but because of the frog DNA the dinosaurs were able to change their sex into males.  Well, atrazine is forcing a similar change on frogs; except atrazine is really making many of the frogs turn into females, and this is obviously having an effect on their population size.[xii]  Atrazine is banned in Switzerland, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a review of the pesticide.[xiii]  You may be thinking, so what they’re frogs.  Well, frogs, like every other animal, have an effect on their ecosystems.  With the decline of the frog population the level of algae in rivers and streams is rising, and this is impacting the other organisms who call those rivers and streams home.[xiv]

Pesticides 2

Another animal species that is being devastated by pesticides is honey bees.  Since 2006 bee populations have fallen roughly 30% a year, and while scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what is causing this death rate, many are convinced that pesticides are, at least partly, to blame.[xv]  In fact, certain countries such as France, Germany, and Italy have banned what are called neonicotinoids, a pesticide which is less harmful to animals, but more harmful to insects than regular pesticides.[xvi]  Bees in those countries are beginning to recover to some extent.  Now, I’m not personally a fan of bees, but they are the great pollinators.  Roughly 1/3 of all food grown worldwide relies upon bees to pollinate.[xvii]  Just a sample of some of the foods and other products that bees are essential for include peaches, apples, strawberries, onions, cherries, coffee, cotton, vanilla, and cocoa.[xviii]  Needless to say, bees are a very important part of the ecosystem, our food supply, and since food is sold, the world’s economy.  30% of the population a year dying means that something is seriously wrong, and if we don’t want to lose our apples, chocolate, coffee, and many other foods then we need to do something.

Pesticides are used primarily to protect our crops from insects and other pests as they grow.  It’s a commendable goal as our food supply is very important, and insects have been known to devastate crops in the past.  However, sometimes the solution to a problem causes more and bigger problems that what it was trying to solve.  That is the case with pesticides, but its use will not stop without more of a push.  As long as people are not complaining what reason do agricultural firms have to stop the use of pesticides?  Not much.  People need to be informed about what is being done to, and for, their food supply.  We don’t live in a perfect world, and problems will always exist.  Are insects a threat to crops?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean that insects don’t serve a purpose as is the case with bees.  Without bees there are many crops that we wouldn’t have.  The solution to the problem presented by pesticides will not be an easy one to find, but if people inform themselves, and if people show that they are concerned then change is possible.


If you liked this article and would like to receive more, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Learn About Chemicals Around Your House.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/pest.htm&gt;.

[ii] “Learn About Chemicals Around Your House.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/pest.htm&gt;.

[iii] Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/&gt;.

[iv] “Public Health Risks Associated with Pesticides and Natural Toxins in Foods.” Radcliffe’s IPM World Textbook. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/pimentel.htm&gt;.

[v] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[vi] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[vii] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[viii] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[ix] “FAQs – Signs & Symptoms of Pesticide Poisoning.” FAQs – Signs & Symptoms of Pesticide Poisoning. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.headlice.org/faq/treatments/signs-symptoms.htm&gt;.

[x] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xi] “Atrazine Updates.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/reregistration/atrazine/atrazine_update.htm&gt;.

[xii] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xiii] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xiv] “UGA Today.” UGA Study Reveals Ecosystem-level Consequences of Frog Extinctions. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/uga-study-reveals-ecosystem-level-consequences-of-frog-extinctions/&gt;.

[xv] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xvi] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xvii] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xviii] “List of Foods We Will Lose If We Don’t Save the Bees.” Natural Society. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://naturalsociety.com/list-of-foods-we-will-lose-if-we-dont-save-the-bees/&gt;.