UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 4. Environmental, health and socio-economic impacts of soil pollution


It remains difficult to make general, quantitative statements about the impact of soil pollution on ecosystems and human health despite decades of research and considerable advances in the knowledge of the fate of soil contaminants. In part this difficulty occurs due to the use of non-harmonized methodologies and the absence of a centralized mechanism to report new knowledge and extract concrete solutions that are scalable. To address this deficiency there is a pressing need for long-term monitoring programmes for plant and animal populations in polluted habitats that integrate demographic studies with phenotypic, genetic and selection assays. These integrative studies are needed due to the challenges of predicting the response of microorganisms, flora and fauna populations from laboratory data using only a few model organisms, as well as the difficulties drawing causal conclusions about the impact of soil pollution on human health, (Loria, Cristescu and Gonzalez, 2019). Likewise, it is essential to deepen human epidemiological studies and health surveillance systems starting with hot spots of pollution and extending them to the general population based on easily collected human biological samples (urine, blood, and breast milk) that will allow rapid action and minimise the risk to the population. The development of harmonised methodologies for epidemiological studies and consideration of exposure to multiple contaminants should be priorities in the field of human health and pollution.

Soil pollution is a result of unsustainable anthropogenic activities and at the same time puts human development and well-being at risk. Preventing and addressing soil pollution should be considered by the international community as an indispensable prerequisite for achieving the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, as soil pollution jeopardizes the achievement of most of the SDGs. Data collection, mapping, monitoring and reporting on soil pollution to ensure public and equitable access to information and enable prevention measures are fundamental actions to ensure environmental justice and the minimization of the socio-economic impacts of soil pollution for all.