Unearth facts about contaminated land, including its causes, categories, and the numerous policies set to solve the problem and prevent further deterioration of the land.
Published 3 Feb 2023
Experts believe that majority of the surface on the planet, including the ground underneath, has already been contaminated. The good news is that all countries have strict policies covering land contamination assessment, solutions, and preventive measures.
Some pollutants are relatively negligible in quality and quantity, but others pose life-threatening dangers. According to several land contamination reports, the following are the most common contaminants found in soil:
Agrochemicals – Used in agriculture, these include pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. While considered by many as necessary in the industry, these can damage the soil’s biomass and its essential inhabitants. These toxic chemicals may cause cancers and mental health issues.
Asbestos – This substance is a must-have in construction because of its unique properties like insulation and heat resistance. Unfortunately, this causes untreatable diseases like mesothelioma, lung scarring, and cancer.
Heavy Metals – Arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, copper, zinc, and nickel are all toxic byproducts of industrial activities, mining, and sewage irrigation. The rate of metal pollution in soil is incredibly alarming as these heavy metals seep into agricultural lands and clean water sources. Complications from exposure include various organ dysfunctions, cancer, and birth defects.
Petroleum Hydrocarbons (PHC) – This toxic pollutant is a byproduct of petroleum products like crude oil and natural gas. Aside from its health hazards to humans, it substantially changes the soil’s properties, making it prone to erosion.
Polynuclear or Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) – These substances are produced when organic materials (e.g., gas, coal, wood, and garbage) get burned. It is difficult to deal with because PAH is hydrophobic, ergo does not breakdown easily. Aside from its adverse effects to the ecosystem, PAHs are carcinogenic and mutagenic.
Solvents – Used primarily as cleaning agents in the manufacturing industry, these liquids vaporize at room temperature and causes a pollutant called ground level ozone. Skin irritation, fatigue and dizziness are just a few symptoms of short-term exposure. High doses, especially those resulting from leaks and spills, could lead to mental issues, unconsciousness, and even death.
Soil pollutants, as explained above, come from different industries. Carefully identifying these can make remediation and redevelopment more successful. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted some of the most extensive contaminated land assessment studies. They have come up with several categories based on their study.
The clean-up and possible restoration of a particular area depends on these categories and the types of pollutants found during the land contamination survey.
Each country has its own regulations regarding soil pollution. These are based on the initial land contamination survey conducted and the legislative framework produced.
As mentioned above, the (EPA) is the United States’ regulatory body that deals with contaminated land based on the CERCLA or Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. This statute covers remediation and redevelopment processes, preventive measures, enforcement of penalties and liabilities, and so many more.
Listed below are some of the countries with their corresponding regulatory bodies and legislative frameworks for the management of contaminated land:
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Land contamination is an incredibly complicated problem that requires detailed solutions. Whether you’re in an industry that deals with hazardous materials or just planning to purchase a piece of land for your business, SafetyCulture (former iAuditor) will be able to assist you in the complex process and ensure that you are adhering to the regulations of your locale.
Jona Tarlengco is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture since 2018. She usually writes about safety and quality topics, contributing to the creation of well-researched articles. Her 5-year experience in one of the world’s leading business news organisations helps enrich the quality of the information in her work.
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