The first laboratory-created pesticides were made commercially available in the 1940s. They quickly gained ground in the agricultural industry because of their ability to significantly boost the yield of various types of crops.

The first reports of pesticides being harmful to human health and the environment came barely 20 years later. Since then, the debate concerning the risks and benefits of synthetic pesticides has continued to rage, leading researchers to study the impact of pesticides on the soil and the environment. 

Our contaminated soil remediation specialists reveal the results of the studies in this article.

How do pesticides get into the soil?

Generally, pesticides in liquid form are sprayed on the upper parts of plants. Of course, a certain amount of liquid always falls onto the ground during these treatments.

Pesticides may also be sprayed on or incorporated into the soil in granule or liquid form. Sometimes, the seeds themselves may be coated in pesticides.

Many studies have confirmed that some of the pesticides used in agriculture are toxic. They can therefore be considered a source of soil contamination, particularly in high concentrations.

That’s why governments are imposing more and more restrictions and bans on the use of many of the pesticides that have been developed over the years. 

Pesticide waste management

Pesticide waste is considered hazardous waste, and managing it poorly is a significant source of soil contamination. 

Pesticide waste is mostly made up of pesticides and materials contaminated by them, including:

  • Rinse water (from rinsing empty containers and sprayers) 
  • Concentrated products that have expired or been recalled or discontinued
  • Empty containers
  • Leftover diluted pesticide mixture
  • Spill residue
  • Contaminated soil

All appropriate measures must be taken to dispose of this waste safely, as the Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques explains in its guide on managing pesticide waste in Quebec (in French only). 

Pesticide spills: a major soil contamination problem

When pesticides are transported or used, accidental spills can occur. These situations can easily cause soil contamination problems, particularly when the pesticides are in liquid form and highly concentrated. 

That’s why locations where pesticides are loaded, transported, prepared or used should have the equipment and materials needed to stop a leak or spill as quickly as possible and clean it up. 

The effect of pesticides on soil

Researchers have done many studies, including contaminated soil analyses, to observe the effects of pesticides in the soil. They have confirmed that many of them are hazardous. 

It’s important to note that the environmental impact of pesticides depends on their concentration and toxicity. Generally, the more concentrated and toxic pesticides are, the greater their impact will be. 

Here are a few of the potential consequences of soil contamination by pesticides.

Impact on microflora

When pesticides are used to treat a crop, they never reach their target 100% of the time. Some of the pesticides will always fall onto the ground, weakening a variety of living organisms such as bacteria, fungi, earthworms and insects.

This microflora must be protected, because it is essential to soil fertility. In the long term, too much pesticide use can negatively affect the yield of a field.

Impact on the food chain

When pesticides spread into the soil, there are several ways they can end up in the food chain.

First of all, many animals feed on the insects that live in the soil. When pesticides are used to control the insect population and the insects are then eaten by other animals, pesticides get into the food chain. 

Secondly, pesticides in the soil can contaminate nearby water sources, meaning that all of the plants, insects and animals that come into contact with that water will absorb pesticides.

Through animals and water sources, pesticides can make their way into the food we eat. The negative effects of pesticides on human health have been well-established (deformities, some types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease and many other illnesses are more likely to be found in people who have been exposed to high concentrations of pesticides).

EBI Enviro Urgence is committed to soil preservation

Pesticides are a double-edged sword—they may increase crop yields, but they can also have significant negative effects on the soil and the environment in general. 

Farmers who use pesticides must therefore take great care with every aspect of their management, from acquisition to application to the disposal of empty containers. 

EBI Enviro Urgence can help limit the negative effects of pesticides. In the event of a spill, our emergency response services can intervene quickly to minimize the extent of the contamination. We can also manage contaminated soil and get rid of farmers’ pesticide waste. Contact us to find out more about our services and help protect the environment!