Global Symposium on Soil Pollution

About the Symposium


Soil pollution implies the presence of chemicals and materials in soil that have a significant adverse effect on any organisms or soil functions. Soil pollutants include inorganic and organic compounds, some organic wastes and the so-called “chemicals of emerging concern” in amendments added to soils. Soil pollution has a direct impact on food security and there is a direct link between the quality and safety of the food we eat and the level of soil pollutants. Because some pollutants are taken up by plants through different pathways, they accumulate in the food chain, compromising the safety of the food consumed by both humans and animals. Additionally, soil pollution affects food availability by reducing crop yields due to toxic levels of pollutants that hamper crop growth and reduce soil biodiversity, thus increasing the problem of food security.The Symposium outcomes should provide scientific evidence to support actions and decisions to prevent and reduce soil pollution for increased food security and nutrition, and ecosystem services, and promote the remediation of polluted sites. In addition, soil contamination may facilitate and accelerate other degradation processes. It leads to losses of biodiversity and, therefore, to the loss of soil carbon and to a lower aggregates stability, which increase soil erodibility and accelerates soil erosion. Soil pollution affects not only food production, but also the quality of groundwater and endangers the ecosystem services provided by the soil.

The specific objectives of the symposium are to: 

  • Examine the current scientific and technical understanding of soil pollution and its effects on food production and safety;
  • Critically reflect on the impact of land use decisions at the national level (e.g. related to mining, and intensive agriculture and livestock production) on soil pollution and eventually, air and water where polluted soil or its pollutants can be transported by erosion processes or water runoff;
  • Identify limitations and prioritize key challenges related to restoring polluted sites;
  • Review existing international policies, agreements and frameworks addressing sources of pollution to agricultural land in order to assess their effectiveness and propose ways to improve them; and
  • Survey and review the use of soil thresholds for pollutants globally and explore additional research and policy needs.

Symposium structure

The Symposium will be a scientific meeting, held over three days at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy from 2 - 4 May 2018 with participants representing all regions of the world. Prominent guests and outstanding keynote presentations will be given by invited leading experts in relation to the following main themes: 

THEME 1: Soil pollution on agricultural fields and other land uses

      Sub-theme 1.1: Drivers of soil pollution in agricultural fields

      Sub-theme 1.2: Drivers of soil pollution in other land uses

THEME 2: The impact of soil pollution on food production and safety, the environment and overall                               human well-being

      Sub-theme 2.1: Soil Pollution and food safety

      Sub-theme 2.2: Risk assessment of soil pollution on the environment and human health

THEME 3: Remediation of polluted sites

      Sub-theme 3.1: Monitoring soil pollution

      Sub-theme 3.2: State of the art of remediation techniques of polluted sites

THEME 4: Global status of soil pollution

      Sub-theme 4.1: Developing policies and setting thresholds for addressing soil pollution

      Sub-theme 4.2: Case studies at global, national and regional scales

The call for extended abstract closed on 28 February 2018. Over 160 abstracts were received and selected for oral and poster presentations under the four four themes. Authors were notified via email on 26 March 2018 and details for oral and poster presentations were provided.

Main aim

The Symposium aims to support the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Sustainable Soil Management in terms of combating soil pollution by collecting information, reviewing existing frameworks, launching global activities to reduce soil pollution, and restore polluted sites.

Expected outputs

The symposium outcome document “Be the solution to soil pollution” will highlight the importance of addressing soil pollution from the food safety, environment and human health perspectives and will include a joint agenda for action based on scientific evidence to prevent it, mitigate it and remediate it where feasible.