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/ Impact brief

Global assessment of soil pollution: Report

Soil pollution is invisible to the human eye, but it compromises the quality of the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe and puts human and environmental health at risk. Most contaminants originate from human activities such as industrial processes and mining, poor waste management, unsustainable farming practices, accidents ranging from small chemical spills to accidents at nuclear power plants, and the many effects of armed conflicts. Pollution knows no borders: contaminants are spread throughout terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and many are distributed globally by atmospheric transport. In addition, they are redistributed through the global economy by way of food and production chains.

Soil pollution has been internationally recognized as a major threat to soil health, and it affects the soil’s ability to provide ecosystem services, including the production of safe and sufficient food, compromising global food security. Soil pollution hinders the achievement of many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including those related to poverty elimination (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), and good health and well-being (SDG 3). Soil pollution hits the most vulnerable hardest, especially children and women (SDG 5). The supply of safe drinking water is threatened by the leaching of contaminants into groundwater and runoff (SDG 6). CO2 and N2O emissions from unsustainably managed soils accelerate climate change (SDG 13). Soil pollution contributes to land degradation and loss of terrestrial (SDG 15) and aquatic (SDG 14) biodiversity, and decreased the security and resilience of cities (SDG 11), among others.