Soils provide 95% of all food but are damaged by industrial, farming, mining and urban pollution
The world’s soils, which provide 95% of humanity’s food, are “under great pressure”, according to a UN report on soil pollution.
Soils are also the largest active store of carbon, after the oceans, and therefore crucial in fighting the climate crisis. But the report said industrial pollution, mining, farming and poor waste management are poisoning soils, with the “polluter pays” principle absent in many countries.
Pollutants include metals, cyanides, DDT and other pesticides, and long-lasting organic chemicals such as PCBs, the report said, making food and water unsafe, cutting the productivity of fields and harming wildlife. However, it said most releases of pollutants that end up in soils are not easily quantified and therefore the true damage remains highly uncertain.
The global production of industrial chemicals each year has doubled since 2000 to 2.3bn tonnes, the report said, and is projected to nearly double again by 2030, meaning soil pollution is expected to increase further. The UN also warns of emerging contaminants including pharmaceuticals, antimicrobials that lead to drug-resistant bacteria, and plastics.