Soil and water contamination arises when a chemical that does not degrade naturally gets into the environment. It may be spilled, leaked or improperly disposed of. When groundwater is contaminated, families and businesses that depend on wells for water are exposed to the chemical every time they drink, cook with, bathe in or otherwise use their water. Soil contamination happens when water deposits a chemical in the earth, allowing exposure through skin contact, inhalation of dust and eating vegetables grown in the contaminated ground. Likely sources of contamination include gas stations and refineries, factories and plants, dry cleaners and rail yards. It is impossible to list all the possible side effects of such contamination, but they include cancers, neurological damage, liver and kidney damage, and birth defects.
More About Soil Contamination
Soil contamination is the diffusion of hazardous material throughout soil. The material can be either solid or liquid and usually bonds with the soil in which it is mixed. Contaminants do not have to be directly deposited in the soil to negatively affect it; for example, many airborne toxic molecules can settle in soil. Soil contamination may also occur as a peripheral effect of ground water contamination, aggravated by flooding or improper waste water disposal. Plants, animals, and humans can absorb the adverse compounds upon contact. Soil can be polluted with either heavy metals or various other chemicals. Again, the types of exposure are dermal contact (e.g. gardening), inhalation (breathing dust particles), or ingestion (eating items grown in impure soil).
The sources of water and soil contamination are innumerable; however, the following have a high probability of potentially contaminating local environs:
• Machine shops.
• Railroad yards and other railroad-related work sites.
• Chemical manufacturing plants.
• Dry cleaning stores.
• Chemical or medical waste storage facilities.
• Nuclear power plants or testing facilities.
• Any manufacturing plant that uses any type of cleaning solvents or gasoline based products.
• Oil refineries.
• Gas stations.
Accidental or intentional leaks and spills from any of the above organizations may allow toxic chemicals to seep into the soil or into ground aquifers or water tables. Once the chemicals have contaminated the soil or water, it is incredibly difficult to remove them. Soil may have to be removed from the site and treated, or neutralizing chemicals introduced into the polluted material. In the worst case scenarios, water or soil must be sequestered such that it does no more damage as it cannot be treated. If water or soil contamination goes unnoticed and unsolved people with high exposures to the contaminants may develop chronic or terminal illnesses.
Chronic exposure may cause some of the following symptoms as well as others not listed here:
• Various forms of cancer (lung, bladder, brain, kidney, leukemia, lymphoma, skin cancer).
• Various forms of learning disability (ADD, ADHD, LD).
• Teratogenic effects (fetal health risks, miscarriages and birth defects).
• Reproductive effects or genetic damage from radiation.
• Respiratory effects (breathing difficulties, allergies and other similar conditions).
• Gastrointestinal effects (digestive conditions).
• Cardiovascular effects.
• Immune system deficiencies.
• Hepatic effects (various liver conditions).
• Renal effects (various kidney effects including blood in the urine).
• Neurological effects (various nervous system disorders, including reflex malfunction and headaches).
If an individual has reason for concern or the physical manifestations of symptoms they should contact a physician and/or the local authorities. There is no reason that anyone should have to consume unsafe water or live on dangerous land. Toxic tort law exists to protect people’s rights and make sure they receive just compensation for others’ negligent behavior.
More About Water Contaminants
There is nothing more basic and integral to survival than water and sustenance. For this reason, the pollution of the sources of these items is of serious importance. Unfortunately, as more unnatural and harmful material is used in production, individuals stand an ever-increasing risk of endangerment through direct and indirect consumption of contaminated soil and water. There are many organizations which have the authorization to assist in protections.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates contamination through the Clean Water Act (1972), the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), among other laws and statutes. The EPA has set maximum contaminant levels for over 90 different chemicals which have been known to pollute water and soil. This information is presented in the Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List, which also discusses priorities for research and further regulation. The Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water also plays a part in keeping contaminants out of soil and water. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers guidelines regarding drinking water if an abnormally high risk of health ramifications (such the possibility of a compromised immune system) exists. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry (ATSDR) is an excellent resource for research which has been done on hazardous substances and their proliferation. Finally, the National Center for Environmental Assessment collects data that are applicable to healthy water concerns. Most local water companies publish an annual drinking water quality report which is accessible online free of charge. If an individual has additional questions, state certified water testing laboratories can provide assistance.
Water pollution is an invasive and ubiquitous concern. It can and does occur in many places. Wells and ground aquifers can be the home to plumes, defined as a fluid body of contamination flowing from a specific source. Humans are at risk through ingestion, dermal contact with or inhalation of hazardous substances. The latter can be from breathing the steam while using the water to wash, or from a combination of low water tables and volatile chemicals resulting in a concentration of chemical gas in basements, cellars or ground level floors.
According to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, the following are potential water contaminants:
Pathogens: Bacteria, parasites and viruses such as hepatitis and giardiasis. Most water is disinfected against biological contamination, however if one is concerned about parasites, it may be prudent to contact the local water company and make sure adequate measures are being taken to preserve health and safety.
Heavy metals: Examples include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury from industrial use, incineration and disposal in landfills. Testing the water for lead is an especially important precaution as so many cities still use lead piping to distribute water and over 800 cities register water above the EPA’s .15mg/l threshold for action.
Non-metallic inorganics: Such as insecticides, nitrates and asbestos. These substances may enter the water supply through use in agriculture or the storage and distribution of water itself. Private wells are especially susceptible to this variety of hazardous contamination.
Synthetic Organic Compounds: This is basically a catch-all for over 50,000 substances with widely varying solubility, volatility, vaporization and toxicity. They include additives to solvents, pesticides, plastics, cleaners and cosmetics.
Radioactive substances: These may be both naturally occurring and man made. The substances found include radon, radium, uranium, and strontium. There is no federal law requiring testing for these elements, thus, again, it may be a responsible gesture to confirm that your local water company does an adequate comprehensive analysis.
Chlorine and Trihalomethanes: Chlorine is added to water to disinfect it, as discussed above. Unfortunately, it also reacts with organic chemicals left in the water by soil and decaying vegetation, forming a group of chemicals called trihalomethanes (THM). THMs are carcinogens which are methane derivatives.
Clearly, there are many potential health hazards present in water, something that is seemingly innocuous, but should be carefully monitored.