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Home>News Articles>Highlights of Accomplishments in 2008>The threat of soil pollution to food safety and sustainable agriculture
 March 20 2008
Soil and plant sampling in a rice field in Taiwan for heavy metals detection.

Soil and plant sampling in a rice field in Taiwan for heavy metals detection.

TSUKUBA, JAPAN - The Asian economy has been growing fast in recent decades, and environmental stresses are building up rapidly along the way. Most alarming is the increasing contamination of heavy metals in soils due to rapid industrialization, urbanization and intensive agriculture in the region. Soil, which is the landscape for the ecosystem and the basic resource for food production, is now threatened by 'soil pollution,' which has no obvious warning signs, and so has been growing unnoticed in many fields in Asian countries.

Along with industrial expansion, arable lands have been gradually degraded or contaminated with heavy metals and organic pollutants in most Asian countries. In the past two decades, this trend became more evident, significantly aggravating the quality of soils and crops as the concentration of pollutants continue to increase. Consequently, this brings about great risks to human health and the deterioratation of environmental quality.

There is also a growing public concern in the region over the detection of heavy metal uptake by crops which affect food quality and safety. With the opening up of the rice market, changing land use from paddy soils into non-waterlogged cropping system has posed some problems on soil properties and soil systems. Some irrigation water for rice production in the region are contaminated by illegal discharges of waste from industrial parks or livestock wastewater and has affected the paddy soil qualities and food safety by heavy metals.

The concern over soil contamination stems primarily from health risks, both of direct contact and from secondary contamination of water supplies. In some developed countries where the extent of contaminated land is most well known, having a legal framework to identify and deal with this environmental problem has become a requisite. This however may well be just the tip of the iceberg, with developing countries very likely to be the next generation of new soil contamination cases.

Against this backdrop, FFTC collaborated with the East and Southeast Asian Federation of Soil Sciences (ESAFS) in the conduct of the 8th ESAFS Conference held in Tsukuba, Japan in October 2007. About 300 soil scientists in east and southeast Asian countries attended the conference, where FFTC sponsored a special session to bring into the mainstream recent trends and issues on New Solutions to Soil Pollution and Distribution, Bioavailability and Management of Heavy Metals. During this special session, a total of nine FFTC-invited participants presented papers on such topics as: new aspects of collaborative research on soil pollution, food safety and soil remediation in Asia; estimation of the bioavailability of heavy metals in soils in different contaminated sites; estimation of heavy metals concentration in crops; and reduction of bioavailability of heavy metals on crops through soil remediation techniques.

The special session was intended to collect reliable data and useful information to develop methodologies to rehabilitate arable lands that have been gradually degraded or contaminated with heavy metals and organic pollutants in most Asian countries, toward the promotion of safe food production in the region.