Saturday, May 05, 2018

Spoiled soiled soil

Soil pollution is posing a serious threat to our environment, to our sources of food and ultimately to our health, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns.

FAO released a report titled “Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality” at the start of a global symposium which has been taking place at FAO headquarters, participated by experts and policymakers to discuss the threat of soil pollution in order to build an effective framework for a cohesive international response.

“Soil pollution refers to the presence of a chemical or substance out of place and/or present at a higher than the normal concentration that has adverse effects on any non-targeted organism. Soil pollution often cannot be directly assessed or visually perceived, making it a hidden danger” states the FAO report. As a “hidden danger” right below our feet, soil pollution turns out to be underestimated affecting everyone – humans and animals. The FAO report warns that this dangerous phenomenon should be of concern worldwide. Its consequences are not limited to the degrading of our soils: ultimately, it also poisons the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Soil pollution significantly reduces food security, not only by reducing crop yields due to toxic levels of contaminants but also by causing crops produced from polluted soils unsafe for consumptions both for animals and humans.

According to findings of the report, the current situation is of high concern. For example, the amount of chemicals produced by the European chemical industry in 2015 was 319 million tonnes. Of that, 117 million tonnes were deemed hazardous to the environment. Global production of municipal solid waste was around 1.3 billion tonnes per year in 2012 and it is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes annually by 2025. Some developing countries have notably increased their use of pesticides over the last decade. Rwanda and Ethiopia by over six times, Bangladesh by four times and Sudan by ten times. The report also highlights that “the total number of contaminated sites is estimated at 80,000 across Australia; in China, the Chinese Environmental Protection Ministry, estimated that 16 per cent of all Chinese soils and 19 per cent of its agricultural soils are categorized as polluted”.

“In the European Economic Area and cooperating countries in the West Balkans” adding, “there are approximately 3 million potentially polluted sites”. While in the United States of America (USA) there are “more than 1,300 polluted or contaminated sites”. These facts are stunning and the international community needs to turn its urgent attention to preserve the state of our soils and to remediate polluted soils into concrete action.

There are clearly massive information gaps regarding the nature and extent of soil pollution. Despite that, the limited information available is enough for deep concern, the report adds.

“The more we learn, the more we know we need cleaner dirt,” said FAO’s Director of Communication, Enrique Yeves, confirming the urgency of the UN agency to address the issue of soil pollution as soon as possible.

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