Healthy soils, healthy future

Last updated: 06-29-2018

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Healthy soils, healthy future

A recent soil symposium in Rome shared scientific evidence to support actions to prevent and reduce soil pollution.

Did you know that there are more soil microorganisms in a teaspoonful of soil than there are people on Earth? Soils contain billions of microscopic organisms, including bacteria, algae and microscopic insects, as well as earthworms, beetles, ants, mites, and fungi.

Soil is often neglected as “dirt”, but it’s incredibly important for human well-being. These days pollution is a worry – and soil is also affected. Nutrient pollution caused by run-off from industrial processes, and other kinds of pollution, threaten the ability of soils to fully perform their ecosystem services.

“In a globalized world, where what we consume has been produced in another part of the planet, we must be responsible for the environmental footprint left by production processes, not only within our territory, but globally,” says Natalia Rodríguez Eugenio, the lead organizer of a recent soil symposium and a consultant on soil pollution for the Global Soil Partnership.

“Soil pollution affects us all, and we can all do something to prevent it; small changes in our habits and a greater commitment from governments and industry will have very positive effects on pollution prevention and minimization,” she adds.

A Global Symposium on Soil Pollution held in Rome from 2-4 May shared scientific evidence to support actions and decisions to prevent and reduce soil pollution and promote the restoration of polluted sites. This is important for increased food safety, security and nutrition.

The gathering brought together more than 500 scientists, policymakers, and people from soil remediation companies, land users’ associations and the agrochemical industry.

The symposium for the first time presented:

Participants agreed that the first step is to raise awareness of the importance of soil for human well-being.

“Knowledge gaps on soil health are greatest in the developing world, where there is still much work to be done on the health impacts on ecosystems and communities,” says Abdelkader Bensada, a UN Environment expert on soil health. 

“Developed countries must accept the commitment to invest in research and technologies that are easily transferable to less-favoured areas, as the problem of soil pollution is global and does not involve borders,” says Eugenio.

One of the issues discussed was “chemicals of emerging concern”, including the contamination of soils with plastic nanoparticles.

“With regard to macro- and micro-plastics, these are certainly an emerging concern in soils. However, more research is needed to fully understand their fate and the pathways of their entry into the food chain,” says Eugenio.

The symposium reaffirmed the importance of the December 2017 UN Environment Assembly Resolution on soil pollution (titled Managing soil pollution to achieve sustainable development)as a concrete commitment by countries to tackle the issue.

UN Environment, the Global Soils Partnership, the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, the World Health Organization and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat areworking on a report to be tabled by the 5th UN Environment Assembly in 2021 on the extent and future trends of soil pollution, including risks and impacts on health, the environment and food security.

You can follow the activities of the Global Soil Partnership and UN Environment in the coming months and find out how you can be part of the solution to soil pollution.

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