UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 6. Status of soil pollution in Asia and the Pacific


This report relies primarily on secondary information published by governmental and non-governmental organizations, peer-reviewed publications, news and opinions, and expert analysis. Focusing on soil pollution in the Asia–Pacific region as a whole, it is evident that chemical soil pollution, whether caused by anthropogenic activities or geogenic processes, has one of the most pervasive and wide-ranging impacts on the environment, our health and well-being. Traces of anthropogenic pollution are now found from the stratosphere to the deep ocean depths, from pole to pole, in many forms of wildlife, in all modern societies, in the food chain and in most individuals, including the new-born. Many developed countries in the Asia–Pacific region have recognized the potential risk that chemical pollution poses to the environment and human health. They have implemented legislation that prevents greater environmental pollution and provides guidance for remediation. In contrast, most developing countries in the region are still struggling to cope with pollution. This review, while recognizing the many challenges faced by these countries, has identified several research gaps that need to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of our environment. These gaps include:

  1. Register of potentially contaminated sites: Lack of a database on the number of potentially contaminated sites, the nature of contaminants, including industrial activities that have contaminated soils or continue to contaminate the environment;
  2. Human capacity: while developing countries have tertiary courses to train environmental scientists capable of assessing and remediating contaminated sites, local universities lack specific courses on contaminants. There is therefore a need to encourage and support local universities to train undergraduate and postgraduate students on contaminants, risk assessment and remediation;
  3. Contaminated sites assessment: given the lack of qualified human capacity in contaminated site assessment, the approach adopted in most developed nations may be too expensive in developing countries. There is therefore a need for countries in the region to develop cost-effective tools within the country, which will minimize the importation of more expensive tools. At the national level, the tools developed could include digitized sensors armed with a contaminant specific nose that delineates contaminated soil;
  4. Source-receptor pathways/life cycle analysis: in most countries of the region, about 70 to 80 percent of the population live in urban areas, with most towns and cities located on riverbanks or coasts. Although there are many legacy sites, little information is available on the potential migration of contaminants from source to receptors, including groundwater, coastal aquifers and riverine systems connecting the catchments. Tools to predict contaminants from source to receptors still need to be developed;
  5. Lack of awareness: A widespread lack of awareness by governments and societies of the current magnitude, pervasiveness and risk of pollution of the global environment and its impact on billions of people;
  6. Food Security: Little information is available on the extent of pollution of the food chain, leading to a lack of understanding of the risks to health and food security, and a lack of understanding of the options for addressing the issue;
  7. Soil pollution exclusive guideline: in this region, we have seen an improvement and an exclusive guideline document on soil pollution and management in some countries, while many countries in the Asia–Pacific region have none at all. Agreement is needed to understand the state of soil pollution in the region and its management strategies.