B5.3.2 The Impact of Contaminated Land


Soil captures about 20 % of the world’s manmade carbon dioxide emissions.

Source: European Commission 2007 


The impact of contamination will vary depending upon the:

  • Source of the pollution.
  • Pathway through which the contamination travels.
  • Receptor affected by the pollution.
  • Geology of the area.
  • Quantity of pollutant.
  • Concentration of pollutant.
  • Characteristics of the pollutant.


Pollution leaking underground will affect soil quicker than a pollutant that is spilt on top of the soil and different types of soil will allow pollutants to travel in different ways.

An incident involving a high quantity of a concentrated pollution is likely to cause more damage than a small amount of a weak pollutant. The characteristics of the pollutant will also have an effect on the impact, for example, a liquid pollutant is likely to cause more damage than a solid one. Although of course this also depends upon what that pollutant is, for example, anthrax will remain viable in the ground for many years.

Pollutants in soil may have differing results and may not always contaminate land. For example, some pollutants may be broken down into harmless substances, be washed away by rain or evaporate. However, some will remain in the soil or be washed into water causing water pollution. In addition, some substances react together to create more serious effects.