UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 9. Status of soil pollution in Latin America and the Caribbean

National and regional priorities in Latin America and the Caribbean

In order to understand national and regional priorities to prevent, reduce and remediate soil pollution, efforts made or in process may be analysed from the following three different perspectives: legal, research and academic studies, and actual projects on identification, assessment and remediation.

Such analysis will provide a more complete picture of the current situation and help to identify potential future trends. Priorities can therefore be better understood by analysing the information from a legal point of view, by looking at the latest legislative and non-legislative proposals, such as action plans or strategies. Analysis of the latest trends in research will provide an insight of the priorities of funding bodies, as well as the technical capacities of research centres and universities. Consideration of pollution remediation projects helps to highlight the main pollution problems, the criteria for their prioritization, and the technologies being used.

Many governments have developed national action plans on soil pollution. It is important to note that many of countries are working in this area; however in some cases no concrete results have been published or they are in the early stages of development. The official websites of the governments of some Caribbean countries contain specific information on actions to combat soil pollution, but in Central and South America such information is scarce. Only Mexico, Peru and Uruguay reported specific initiatives on soil pollution.

9.6.1. National priorities in the Caribbean

Apart from membership and continued work with the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention Secretariats, Antigua and Barbuda has established other environmental priorities in its development agenda The project “Monitoring and Assessment of Multilateral Environmental Agreements, Implementation and Environmental Trends in Antigua and Barbuda”, focuses on strengthening capacities for effective data and information management to catalyse compliance and sustainability of obligations under the three Rio Conventions: Convention on Biological Diversity; UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and UN Convention to Combat Desertification. As indicated by Gore-Francis (2013), prevention of land-based marine pollution, better waste management, and the control of unregulated and excessive use of pesticides are priorities included in Antigua and Barbuda’s national plans.

The Bahamas passed its Environmental Protection Act on Plastic Pollution Control on 30 December 2019, which bans single-use plastic utensils and single-use non-biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable and biodegradable plastic bags; and prohibits the release of plastic balloons (The Government of the Bahamas, 2019).

The Cuban Ministry of Agriculture has recently implemented the Programme for the Production of Organic Fertilizers and Biofertilizers and the National Programme for Soil Conservation and Improvement. The latter aims to improve soil protection, with priorities to combat erosion, acidity, alkalinity, salinity and low fertility (Granma, 2018).

Cuba’s National Environmental Strategy for 2016-2020 (ENA) considers soil degradation, pollution, deforestation, water quality, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, the impact of climate change, and the deterioration of sanitary conditions as the main Cuban environmental problems. In 2000, the Ministry of Agriculture created the National Programme for Soil Conservation and Improvement with the aim of implementing a set of simple soil conservation activities to stop or minimize soil degradation processes. There are other programmes, such as the National Programme to Combat Desertification and Drought and the National Forestry Development, which aim to support soil protection, with the priorities of combating erosion, acidity, alkalinity, salinity, low fertility and contamination (Aguilar et al., 2015).

In 2018, the Dominican government launched the Dominican Emergency Agriculture Livelihoods and Climate Resilience Project, as part of the Environmental and Social Management Framework, which defines procedures for environmental and social assessment, particularly in agriculture (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2018).

In the United States Virgin Islands, the US-EPA monitors groundwater quality around drinking water wells in the Tutu area. The US-EPA has required each landowner to address soil and groundwater contamination on their respective properties and many have already initiated remediation activities (US EPA, 2018).

In Puerto Rico, the US-EPA is working on two projects for the remediation of polluted soil and groundwater: in Manatí, due to the historical activities of Pesticide Warehouse III; and in the surroundings of Papelera Puertorriqueña Inc, located in Utuado, where industrial pulp and paper activities have polluted the soil (US EPA, 2017, 2019c).

In 2019, within the framework of World Soil Day, the Ministry of the Environment of the Dominican Republic, in collaboration with several institutions, proposed initiatives for soil improvement and conservation. The main focal areas were strengthening of research on soil erosion in order to understand the phenomenon and raising awareness of the country’s decision makers on the adoption of measures for prevention, mitigation and sustainable use of soil (Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, 2019).

9.6.2. National priorities in Central America

In 2019, at the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 25), the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador presented the regional action plan, which sought to achieve carbon neutrality in agricultural, forestry and other land uses. The project promotes the conservation of forest ecosystems and their ecological connectivity, as well as the adoption of sustainable agricultural production practices. Although this action plan does not directly address soil pollution, it aims to reduce chemical inputs into agricultural soils and any subsequent pollution.

The government of Guatemala trained 260 teachers in an environmental education campaign. The teachers now promote improved agricultural practices to prevent soil degradation and loss of forest cover. It also promoted agreements with coffee producers to introduce sustainable practices in the sector.

In 2019 the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) announced a number of initiatives to address soil pollution. These included: the training of inspectors from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office for Environmental Protection in the detection of polychlorinated biphenyls in industrial sites; the promotion of agroecological practices to reduce the excessive use of pesticides; and meetings to analyse the practice of fracking in Mexico (SEMARNAT, 2019).

9.6.3. National priorities in South America

In 2019, the Peruvian Ministry of Environment (MINAM) publicized some of its active projects that addressed soil contamination. These included the remediation of 48.8 ha of polluted soil affected from mining in the San Juan River area and the Upamayo delta in Lake Chinchaycocha (Ministerio del Ambiente, 2019). In 2017, MINAM published Supreme Decree No. 011-2017-MINAM, which approved Environmental Quality Standards (ECA) for soils.

In 2019, the Uruguayan Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries prohibited the import, registration and renewal of fenthion-based plant protection products because of their potential risks to the environment and human health (MGAP, 2019a). Also in 2019, the Law 19.717 on agro-ecologically based production, distribution and consumption systems was promulgated, which declared agroecology to be a national priority and initiated the elaboration and implementation of the National Agroecology Plan. The Plan included the monitoring of the use of agrochemicals as a State policy with a plan to cover 400 000 ha by 2020 to measure the traceability of agrochemicals and promote soil conservation (MGAP, 2019c).

In 2019, the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development formed an alliance with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Rural Agricultural Planning Unit, the Hydrological, Meteorological and Environmental Research Institute (IDEAM), the Geographical Institute Agustín Codazzi (IGAC), Agrosavia, the CAR and the Humboldt Institute. The aim of the alliance was to collaborate in the area of soil conservation and sustainable soil management (Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible, 2019).

In 2019 the Senate of the Republic of Chile urged the adoption of legislation to protect Chile’s soil resources, which were threatened by erosion, degradation, desertification and pollution, as well as lack of planning and land management (Senado República de Chile, 2019).