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Global Symposium on Soil Pollution to kick off later Wednesday

The Global Symposium on Soil Pollution (GSOP18) will kick off later on Wednesday at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) headquarters. 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and its Global Soil Partnership (GSP), Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), together with the Secretariats of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, UN Environment and World Health Organization (WHO), agreed to explore the option of a jointly organized Global Symposium on Soil Pollution as a common platform to discuss and elaborate the latest information on the status, trends and actions (both scientific and political) on soil pollution and its threatful consequences on human health, food safety and the environment.

The symposium is the first step in implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management in terms of preventing and reducing harmful substances in soil as a way to maintain healthy soils and food safety in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, the symposium outcomes should provide scientific evidence to support actions and decisions to prevent and reduce soil pollution for increased food security and nutrition, and ecosystem services, and promote the remediation of polluted sites.

Across the globe soil pollution resulting also from anthropogenic activities has become a widespread problem with direct impact on food quality and safety. According to the Status of World’s Soil Resources report released in 2015 and the Voluntary Guidelines on Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM) endorsed by the FAO Council in December 2016, soil contamination represents one of the ten major threats facing global soils. The agricultural sector, including crops, livestock, fisheries, and soil and water management, is both a bearer and a contributor of global soil pollution. Soil pollution implies the presence of a chemical or substance out of place or present at higher than normal concentrations that has adverse effects on any non-targeted organism. Pollutants can enter soils from a wide range of sources including, among other means, agricultural inputs, atmospheric deposition, flood and irrigation water, accidental spills, inappropriate solid, liquid and hazardous waste disposal, industrial activities. Soil pollution is insidiously hazardous as it is not always directly observable in the field and in many cases cannot be detected and assessed on time. 

Negative consequences may embrace plant toxicities and subsequent productivity declines, contamination of water and off-site areas through sediment transport, and increased human and animal health risks due to the accumulation of contaminants in the food-chain.

The GSOP18 aims to examine the current scientific and technical understanding of soil pollution and its effects on food production and safety, and human health; critically reflect on the impact of land use decisions on soil pollution at the national level and eventually, on air and water pollution where polluted soil or its pollutants can be transported by erosion processes or water runoff; Identify and discuss limitations and prioritize key challenges related to restoring polluted sites; review existing international policies, agreements and frameworks addressing sources of pollution to agricultural land in order to assess their effectiveness and propose ways to improve them; and survey and examine the use of soil thresholds globally exploring additional research and policy needs. 

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