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Soil Contamination in China: Current Status and Mitigation Strategies

Zhao, Fang-Jie, Ma, Yibing, Zhu, Yong-Guan, Tang, Zhong, McGrath, Steve P.
Environmental Science & Technology 2015 v.49 no.2 pp. 750-759
agricultural soils, bioremediation, breeding, cultivars, environmental quality, fertilizers, food chain, food crops, heavy metals, industrial crops, industrialization, land use, liming, metalloids, national surveys, soil pollution, soil sampling, urbanization, China
China faces great challenges in protecting its soil from contamination caused by rapid industrialization and urbanization over the last three decades. Recent nationwide surveys show that 16% of the soil samples, 19% for the agricultural soils, are contaminated based on China’s soil environmental quality limits, mainly with heavy metals and metalloids. Comparisons with other regions of the world show that the current status of soil contamination, based on the total contaminant concentrations, is not worse in China. However, the concentrations of some heavy metals in Chinese soils appear to be increasing at much greater rates. Exceedance of the contaminant limits in food crops is widespread in some areas, especially southern China, due to elevated inputs of contaminants, acidic nature of the soil and crop species or cultivars prone to heavy metal accumulation. Minimizing the transfer of contaminants from soil to the food chain is a top priority. A number of options are proposed, including identification of the sources of contaminants to agricultural systems, minimization of contaminant inputs, reduction of heavy metal phytoavailability in soil with liming or other immobilizing materials, selection and breeding of low accumulating crop cultivars, adoption of appropriate water and fertilizer management, bioremediation, and change of land use to grow nonfood crops. Implementation of these strategies requires not only technological advances, but also social-economic evaluation and effective enforcement of environmental protection law.