Signs of soil contamination

Soil contamination is often thought of in terms of environmental contamination at the microbial or chemical level. But soil contamination is not invisible to the eye. There are some visible signs:

Discoloured soil

The presence of soil discolouration, staining or oily patches is a sign there are too many substances in the soil. The soil is made up of minerals, plant and animal wastes, and nutrients. When this balance is upset by an excess of heavy materials, industrial wastes, pesticides, or herbicides it will show in the colour of the soil. Land Remediation Services can help.

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It is possible to detect a distinct odour when there are large amounts of foreign substances trapped in soil. Oily soils are a sign of contamination with petroleum, while soils contaminated by heavy metals like lead can smell different.

Absence of birds/animals

As they progress up the food chain, soil contamination changes the metabolism of the microorganisms in the soil. This often leads to the extinction of predatory or consumer species. Soil containing DDT, for example, is consumed by insects and worms, who are the primary food sources of birds. The DDT chemicals in the soil affect the bird’s system after they consume the life forms. This leads to weakened eggshells and increased chick death.

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Minimal plant life

It is not surprising that soil contamination alters plant metabolism and causes plants to wilt, wither, and die. For information on Land Remediation Services, visit Soilfix.


When a previously-vegetated area is cleared by contamination, the secondary effect is soil erosion. The vegetation no longer protects the soil against being washed or blown away.

Paint chips

Paint chips around a building are a classic and obvious indication of lead contamination caused by paint.

There are no signs

It is possible that contaminated soil does not show any symptoms. The only way to be sure is to collect soil samples and have them tested by professionals.

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