The role of soils in the disposition, sequestration and decontamination of environmental contaminants

Binoy Sarkar, Raj Mukhopadhyay, Sammani Ramanayaka, Nanthi Bolan, Yong Sik Ok

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Soil serves as both a 'source' and 'sink' for contaminants. As a source, contaminants are derived from both 'geogenic' and 'anthropogenic' origins. Typically, while some of the inorganic contaminants including potentially toxic elements are derived from geogenic origin (e.g. arsenic and selenium) through weathering of parent materials, the majority of organic (e.g. pesticides and microplastics) as well as inorganic (e.g. lead, cadmium) contaminants are derived from anthropogenic origin. As a sink, soil plays a critical role in the transformation of these contaminants and their subsequent transfer to environmental compartments, including groundwater (e.g. pesticides), surface water (phosphate and nitrate), ocean (e.g. microplastics) and atmosphere (e.g. nitrous oxide emission). A complex transformation process of contaminants in soil involving adsorption, precipitation, redox reactions and biodegradation control the mobility, bioavailability and environmental toxicity of these contaminants. Soil also plays a major role in the decontamination of contaminants, and the 'cleaning' action of soil is controlled primarily by the physico-chemical interactions of contaminants with various soil components, and the biochemical transformations facilitated by soil microorganisms. In this article, we examine the geogenic and anthropogenic sources of contaminants reaching the soil, and discuss the role of soil in the sequestration and decontamination of contaminants in relation to various physico-chemical and microbial transformation reactions of contaminants with various soil components. Finally, we propose future actions that would help to maintain the role of soils in protecting the environment from contaminants and delivering sustainable development goals. This article is part of the theme issue 'The role of soils in delivering Nature's Contributions to People'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200177
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1834
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2021


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