Heavy metals, pesticides, solvents and other man-made chemicals, lead and oil spills are some of the common contaminants that lead to soil pollution. Soil pollution changes the natural environment of the soil, killing beneficial microorganisms and creating a pathogenic soil environment.
Diseases caused by soil pollution are contracted from direct contact with the contaminated soil, from inhaling airborne contaminants, from water run-off or from crops grown in the contaminated soil.
Exposure to benzene, chromium, weed killers and pesticides are carcinogenic, and prolonged benzene exposure may lead to leukemia. Benzene is a liquid chemical that comes from natural sources including forest fires and is found in gasoline, crude oil and cigarette smoke and is used in chemical synthesis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Benzene interferes with cellular function, decreases red blood cell production and compromises the body’s immunity by decreasing white blood cells and antibodies. Long-term effects of benzene exposure include anemia, irregular menstrual cycles in women and leukemia as reported by the Department of Health and Human Services. High levels of benzene exposure are fatal.
Brain and Nerve Damage
Some children exposed to lead-contaminated soil have experienced brain and nervous system damage, which has impeded their brain and neuromuscular development.
Kidney and Liver Disease
Lead exposure from soil also puts people at risk for kidney damage. Exposure to soil contaminated with a combination of mercury and cyclodienes increases the risk of developing incurable kidney damage. Exposure to PCBs and cyclodienes may cause liver toxicity as well.
In tropical regions where rainfall is heavy and raw sewage or contaminated water may mix with the soil that people and children come in direct contact with, malaria outbreaks are common. Malaria is caused by protozoa that thrive in soil. Rain water helps the protozoa and its mosquito carriers propagate, resulting in malaria outbreaks.
Human deforestation activities disturb and diminish the natural habitat of many disease-carrying animal species, bringing them into closer proximity to human and domesticated animal environments for alternative food sources and shelter.
Diseases caused by bat, rodent and ape droppings that cause soil pollution include the Ebola virus in the Congo, the Nipah virus in Malaysia and the hantavirus and West Nile virus in the United States, as related in “The Spread of New Diseases: The Climate Connection” by science journalist Sonia Shah. As long as soil pollution exists from chemical irresponsibility and climactic disturbances caused by humans, humans will remain vulnerable to diseases caused by soil pollution.