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With very concrete examples, environmental engineer Laura Verdier explains in her book Polluted Soils, a Threat to People and Biodiversity why soils are a fundamental issue in the fight against climate change.
“I wrote this book in the belief that soils are completely overlooked in national and EU environmental policy. In reality, they feed us, support our lives and activities, are host to exceptional biodiversity, act as a filter, help combat climate change … yet we do not protect them. “This is how Laura Verdier summarises her first book ‘Sols pollués, menaces sur la population et la biodiversité’ (Polluted Soils, a Threat to People and Biodiversity) published in 2021 by Dunod.
Without denying the ravages of pollution on air quality and water contamination, the environmentalist and engineer intends to put the issue of soil back at the centre of the equation through an effective and easy-to-read text. Using specific examples of polluted sites in France, Laura Verdier seeks to understand the mistakes of the past in order to effectively remediate soils. She reflects on how to build a regulatory framework that would adequately protect this natural heritage. When she herself was heard by a Senate committee, she realised that public decision makers knew very little about the subject.
Widespread Pollution in France
Soil contamination touches all regions of France, to a much greater extent than we might imagine. For example, the western suburbs of Paris are widely affected by lead pollution, not only in areas of former industrial sites, but also in residential areas. Used for decades in land application, lead also contaminates large agricultural areas.
In the Carcassonne region, the entire Orbiel valley was damaged by the former gold mine at Salsigne. Tonnes of arsenic were dumped there to facilitate the extraction of the precious metal. But the soil still suffers today, despite the mine’s closure in 2004.
All these materials – lead, arsenic, hydrocarbons – are potentially dangerous to human health as they permeate agricultural soils and are therefore ingested by thousands of people, causing numerous cancers, but also degenerative diseases, skin diseases, etc
From Theory to Practise
Without limiting herself to this alarming observation, Laura Verdier proposes concrete and rapid solutions to decontaminate soils, such as phytoremediation, a little-known technique that simply consists of planting vegetation in highly polluted areas so that they absorb heavy metals. The plant is then cut and burned. A gentle way to clean up the soil.
Laura Verdier also mentions more expensive but equally effective techniques: physico-chemical methods. Using injection cables, the pressure within the soil is increased in order to extract gases. They are then recovered and the air is treated. There are even hydrocarbon-eating bacteria that can clean up a site in just a few months… So many possibilities that prove that soil decontamination is far from unattainable.