Types of Soil Contamination & Foundations

Soil Contamination & Foundations

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Types of Soil Contamination

Manufacturing processes, building construction, and water treatment applications all carry the risk of releasing hazardous materials into the environment. The effects of these pollutants impact the physical environment on different levels. Air and water contamination may in many cases affect the land in indirect ways. The types of soil contamination that result vary according to locale, climate, and the composition of the soil itself.


  • Soil contamination is a process in which pollutants become enmeshed within the composition of the soil. Most soil types are made up of a mixture of organic and inorganic materials. Different soil textures like sand, silt, and clay absorb pollutants at different rates. Pollutants can come in the form of chemicals or solids and may be organic or inorganic in nature. The effects of air and water on absorption rates can either work for or against the rate of contamination.


  • Man-made chemicals and ecosystem alterations in the soil are the main sources of contamination. Heavy metals, solvents, pesticides, and hydrocarbons are some of the chemicals most likely to affect soil composition. Industrialized areas give rise to the use of pesticides, underground storage tanks, and landfills. These practices pose a potential risk of contamination to air, water, and soil systems. Materials can either be spilled directly onto soil areas, or carried by waterways. Smokestack emissions can also contain pollutant particles that fall onto soil surfaces.

  • Infiltration is a type of contamination where ground surface water infiltrates the soil. The rate of infiltration depends on the soil type and the amount of water on the ground surface. Soil porosity in terms of how small the granules are can increase the rate of infiltration that occurs. The smaller the pores, the faster surface water can be pulled down through the soil’s layers. Smaller pores create channels within the soil that work to pull the water down. The infiltration rate slows as the soil composition becomes more saturated.

Surface Run-off

  • The effects of urbanization have created surfaces that are resistant to absorbing water. Structures like pavements and buildings cause a surface run-off of water. As a result, natural events like rain and snowmelt are forced to form streams that potentially gather pollutants when erosion takes place. Surface run-off can pick up petroleum, fertilizer, and pesticide materials that are continuously deposited into pockets of soil as run-off streams move across the ground. Continued run-off conditions can develop into a hardening of the soil, which further destroys the ground’s ability to absorb water.

Brownfield Land

  • Brownfield land is a term given to identify areas where abandoned industrial or commercial facilities have caused environmental damage. Abandoned facilities are often laden with low concentrations of hazardous waste and environmental contaminants. As a result, the soil composition is replete with heavy metal particles, solvents, and hydrocarbons. The possible use of underground storage tanks, drums, and waste containers may result in container leakage. Over time, the contents of these containers seep through and further contaminate the surrounding soil environment.

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