More Info

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Land pollution

Land pollution is the degradation of earth's land surfaces often caused by human activities and their misuse of land resources. Haphazard disposal of urban and industrial wastes, exploitation of minerals, and improper use of soil by inadequate agricultural practices are a few factors. Urbanization and industrialisation are major causes of land pollution.

The Industrial Revolution set a series of events into motion which destroyed natural habitats and polluted the environment, causing diseases in both humans and animals.

Increased mechanization

In some areas, metal ores are extracted from the ground, melted, cast and cooled using river water, which raises the temperature of water in rivers. This reduces the oxygen carrying capacity of the water and affects the aquatic life forms. The excavation of minerals leads to a large scale quarrying and defacing of land. To a large extent, this has been stopped or is more controlled, and attempts have been made to use the quarries profitably e.g. sand pits have been turned into boating lochs and some have been used as landfills. Central Scotland bears the scars of years of coal mining, with pit binges and slag heaps visible from the motorways.

The increase in the concentration of population in cities, along with the internal combustion engine, led to the increased number of roads and all the infra structure that goes with them. Roads cause visual, noise, light, air and water pollution, in addition to land pollution. The visual and noise areas are obvious, however light pollution is becoming more widely recognised as a problem. From outer space, large cities can be picked out at night by the glow of their lighting, so city dwellers seldom experience total darkness.

The contribution of vehicular traffic to air pollution is dealt with in another article, but, suffice to say that sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide are the main culprits. Water pollution is caused by the run off from roads of oil, salt and rubber residue, which enter the water courses and may make conditions unsuitable for certain organisms to live.

Agricultural effects

Increased agricultural land and field size

As the demand for food has grown very high, there is an increase in field size and mechanization. The increase in field size makes it economically viable for the farmer but results in loss of habitat and shelter for wildlife, as hedgerows and copses disappear. When crops are harvested, the naked soil is left open to wind after the heavy machinery has compacted it. Another consequence of more intensive agriculture is the move to monoculture. This is unnatural, it depletes the soil of nutrients, allows diseases and pests to spread and, in short, brings into play the use of chemical substances foreign to the environment.


Pesticides are chemicals used to kill pests. These can cause soil contamination and water contamination as well.pesticides are the chemical used for spaying t0 the crop. it kills the isects near by the crop which affects the crop. the biggest drawback of the pesticide is that that after a certain period of time the fertility of land goes away.


Herbicides are used to kill weeds, especially on pavements and railways. They are similar to auxins and most are biodegradable by soil bacteria. However one group derived from trinitrophenol (2:4 D and 2:4:5 T) have the impurity dioxin, which is very toxic and causes fatality even in low concentrations. It also causes spontaneous abortions, haemorrhaging and cancer. Agent Orange (50% 2:4:5 T) was used as a defoliant in Vietnam. Eleven million gallons were used and children born since then to American soldiers who served in this conflict, have shown increased physical and mental disabilities compared to the rest of the population. It affects the head of the sperm and the chromosomes inside it.

Another herbicide, much loved by murder story writers, is Paraquat. It is highly toxic but it rapidly degrades in soil due to the action of bacteria and does not kill soil fauna.


Fungicides are the group used to stop the growth of smuts and rusts on cereals, and mildews and moulds like Mucor on plants. The problem is that they may contain copper and mercury. Copper is very toxic (at 1ppm) to water plants and fish, and can enter human skin if sprayed and accumulate in the central nervous system. Organomercury compounds have been used to get rid of sedges, which are insidious and difficult to remove. However it also can accumulate in birds’ central nervous systems and kill them.


Insecticides are used to rid farms of pests which damage crops. The insects damage not only standing crops but also stored ones and in the tropics it is reckoned that one third of the total production is lost during food storage. As with fungicides, the first insecticides used in the nineteenth century were inorganic e.g. Paris Green and other compounds of arsenic. Nicotine has also been used since the late eighteenth century. There are now two main groups of synthetic insecticides -


Organochlorines include DDT, Aldrin, Dieldrin and BHC. They are cheap to produce, potent and persistent. DDT was used on a massive scale from the 1930s, with a peak of 72,000 tonnes used 1970. Then usage fell as the harmful environmental effects were realized. It was found worldwide in fish and birds and was even discovered in the snow in the Antarctic. It is only slightly soluble in water but is very soluble in the bloodstream. It affects the nervous and endocrine systems and causes the eggshells of birds to lack calcium causing them to be easily breakable. It is thought to be responsible for the decline of the numbers of birds of prey like ospreys and peregrine falcons in the 1950s - they are now recovering.

As well as increased concentration via the food chain, it is known to enter via permeable membranes, so fish get it through their gills. As it has low water solubility, it tends to stay at the water surface, so organisms that live there are most affected. DDT found in fish that formed part of the human food chain caused concern, but the levels found in the liver, kidney and brain tissues was less than 1ppm and in fat was 10 ppm which was below the level likely to cause harm. However, DDT was banned in Britain and America to stop the further build up of it in the food chain. The USA exploited this ban and sold DDT to developing countries, who could not afford the expensive replacement chemicals and who did not have such stringent regulations governing the use of pesticides.

Some insects have developed a resistance to insecticides - e.g. the Anopheles mosquito which carries malaria.


Organophosphates, e.g. parathion, methyl parathion and about 40 other insecticides are available nationally. Parathion is highly toxic, methyl-parathion is less so and Malathion is generally considered safe as it has low toxicity and is rapidly broken down in the mammalian liver. This group works by preventing normal nerve transmission as cholinesterase is prevented from breaking down the transmitter substance acetylcholine, resulting in uncontrolled muscle movements.

Entry of a variety of pesticides into our water supplies causes concern to environmental groups, as in many cases the long term effects of these specific chemicals is not known.

Restrictions came into force in July 1985 and were so frequently broken that in 1987, formal proceedings were taken against the British government. Britain is still the only European state to use Aldrin and organochlorines, although it was supposed to stop in 1993. East Anglia has the worst record for pesticide contamination of drinking water. Of the 350 pesticides used in Britain, only 50 can be analyzed, which is worrying for the global community.


Burial is the technique used by Jews, Muslims, Christians and other religions with Abrahamic influence, to dispose off the corpse of dead humans and animals. This process leads to regular soil erosion due to loosening of soil. Also, the decomposing fluids act as poisonous herbicides, pesticides and may even lead to epidemics in surrounding areas. It leads to soil pollution, soil erosion and even water pollution.

Increased waste disposal

In Scotland in 1993, 14 million tons of waste was produced. 100,000 tons was special waste and 260,000 tons was controlled waste from other parts of Britain and abroad. 45% of the special waste was in liquid form and 18% was asbestos - radioactive waste was not included. Of the controlled waste, 48% came from the demolition of buildings, 22% from industry, 17% from households and 13% from business - only 3% were recycled. 90% of controlled waste was buried in landfill sites and produced 2 million tons of methane gas. 1.5% was burned in incinerators and 1.5% were exported to be disposed of or recycled. There are 748 disposal sites in Scotland.

Landfills produce leachate, which has to be recycled to keep favourable conditions for microbial activity, methane gas and some carbon dioxide.

There are very few vacant or derelict land sites in the north east of Scotland, as there are few traditional heavy industries or coal/mineral extraction sites. However some areas are contaminated by aromatic hydrocarbons (500 cubic meters).

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive allows sewage sludge to be sprayed onto land and the volume is expected to double to 185,000 tons of dry solids in 2005. This has good agricultural properties due to the high nitrogen and phosphate content. In 1990/1991, 13% wet weight was sprayed onto 0.13% of the land , however this is expected to rise 15 fold by 2005. There is a need to control this so that pathogenic microorganisms do not get into water courses and to ensure that there is no accumulation of heavy metals in the top soil.

Increased wealth

At the end of twentieth century, people had even more leisure time and available wealth. This means that people can travel more often, increasing the number of cars on the roads. This is related to the increased litter problem in the countryside. This includes packaging, cans, bottles, etc. from picnics, but increasingly people are dumping household rubbish in the countryside instead of taking it to the local dump. Aesthetically, litter is unpleasant but poses threats to the wildlife through razor sharp glass that can be trodden on, plastic bags that can be eaten and choked on, etc. More and more litter is becoming a problem, especially in the more remote areas, which are now more accessible to the general public. Until the public takes responsibility to stop littering, legislation will have little effect and information and education will be the fore runners in the fight against the litter bugs.

No comments: