Soil pollution is an increasing concern for the environment, for water systems and for public health, due to the possibility of pollutant accumulation in the food chain. Soil pollution has increased because of industrial pollution, mining and the over-application of fertilisers, which have added “potentially toxic elements” (PTEs) to the soil. Use of fossil fuels also releases compounds - including numerous organic contaminants - into the environment, which are now present in soils and water.
In Campania, southern Italy, four National Interest Priority Sites (NIPS) of soil pollution have been identified, covering around 200 000 ha. In two urban NIPS - Napoli Orientale and Bagnoli-Coroglio - the storage of petroleum-derived compounds, the steel industry and asbestos cement production are the main sources of pollution. The Litorale Vesuviano site is characterised by inadequate management of municipal waste, whilst Litorale Domitio-Agro Aversano is mainly agricultural land polluted by illegal dumping of industrial and municipal waste.
The 'ECOREMED' project aimed to:
The 'ECOREMED'project has successfully provided local, regional and national policy makers with concrete tools to allow evidence-based decision making on contaminated agricultural soils. Specifically, it defined an operative protocol for bioremediation of contaminated agricultural soils in the Litorale Domitio-Agro Aversano and demonstrated its effectiveness in polluted agricultural areas of five pilot sites and one extra industrial site.
The project defined environmental quality indicators and provided useful baseline soil quality data that can be used in the environmental regulatory framework with a focus on the bio-availability of pollutants in soil and plants.
Direct environmental benefits were related to the sites in which the protocol was applied:
Furthermore, the project expects that reduced movement of contaminants thanks to the capping made with the trees will be even more visible within 1-2 years. Additionally, the biodegradation of organic pollutants and the reduction of the mobile, bio-available fraction of mineral pollutants - the so called heavy metals - will be more visible within 5-10 years.
The socioeconomic advantages of phyto-remediation with respect to other high-technology strategies were clear. The protocol proved to be very cost effective compared to the main alternative solutions - € 0.1 m/ha compared to € 2-5 m/ha for ‘dig and dump’ and € 1-2 m/ha for ‘capping with cement platforms’. Its further application would also create important employment opportunities in planting and managing plants and trees in the Campania Region.
Parts of the protocol have already been replicated by other public and private entities in the Campania Region, including: the former landfill RESIT; a 6-ha site in the town of San Giuseppiello polluted due to illegal dumping of industrial sludge; and a 3.5-ha contaminated industrial field managed by ECOBAT, a multinational smelting plant for battery recycling.
Further replication was facilitated by strong links with local and regional administrations and three project partners are now members of an Italian Government task force for mapping agricultural soils at risk of pollution and for reviewing Italian legislation about soil pollution and remediation. Several national and regional laws – e.g. Regional Forest Law – have already been adapted to include phyto-remediation techniques, as supported by the project results.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).