Land and soil pollution is largely the product of poor agricultural practices, inefficient irrigation, improper hazardous chemicals and nuclear waste management, and a range of industrial, military and extractive activities. Pollutants degrade soils and thus humans and wildlife living near former industrial sites and reclaimed lands are at risk of exposure to pollution if sites are not decontaminated carefully and properly.
The primary pollutants of concern in land and soil are heavy metals, such as lead, mercury and others, pesticides and other persistent organic pollutants, and pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics used for livestock management. Sources of heavy metal pollution include mining operations, preparation of nuclear fuels, coal burning, chemical production, leather tanning, electronic waste, and industrial waste. Heavy metal pollution is a public health risk, especially for children and pregnant women as heavy metals can become highly concentrated in soils and lie dormant, without decaying, for many years.