Local soil contamination in 2011 was estimated at 2.5 million potentially contaminated sites in the EEA-39, of which about 45 % have been identified to date. About one third of an estimated total of 342 000 contaminated sites in the EEA-39 have already been identified and about 15 % of these 342 000 sites have been remediated. However, there are substantial differences in the underlying site definitions and interpretations that are used in different countries.
Four management steps are defined for the management and control of local soil contamination, namely site identification (or preliminary studies), preliminary investigations, main site investigations, and implementation of risk reduction measures. Progress with each of these steps provides evidence that countries are identifying potentially contaminated sites, verifying if these sites are actually contaminated and implementing remediation measures where these are required. Some countries have defined targets for the different steps.
Thirty of the 39 countries surveyed maintain comprehensive inventories for contaminated sites: 24 countries have central national data inventories, while six countries, namely Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany, Greece, Italy and Sweden, manage their inventories at the regional level. Almost all of the inventories include information on polluting activities, potentially contaminated sites and contaminated sites.
Contaminated soil continues to be commonly managed using “traditional” techniques, e.g. excavation and off-site disposal, which accounts for about one third of management practices. In-situ and ex-situ remediation techniques for contaminated soil are applied more or less equally.
Overall, the production sectors contribute more to local soil contamination than the service sectors, while mining activities are important sources of soil contamination in some countries. In the production sector, metal industries are reported as most polluting whereas the textile, leather, wood and paper industries are minor contributors to local soil contamination. Gasoline stations are the most frequently reported sources of contamination for the service sector.
The relative importance of different contaminants is similar for both liquid and solid matrices. The most frequent contaminants are mineral oils and heavy metals. Generally, phenols and cyanides make a negligible overall contribution to total contamination.
On average, 42 % of the total expenditure on the management of contaminated sites comes from public budgets. Annual national expenditures for the management of contaminated sites are on average about EUR 10.7 per capita. This corresponds to an average of 0.041 % of the national GDP. Around 81 % of the annual national expenditures for the management of contaminated sites is spent on remediation measures, while only 15 % is spent on site investigations.
It should be noted that all results derive from data provided by 27 (out of 39) countries that returned the questionnaire, and not all countries answered all questions.
105 million ha., or 16 % of Europe’s total land area (excluding Russia) were estimated to be affected by water erosion in the 1990s.
Some 42 million ha. of land were estimated to be affected by wind erosion, of which around 1 million ha. were categorised as being severely affected.
A recent new model of soil erosion by water has estimated the surface area affected in the EU‐27 at 130 million ha. Almost 20 % is subjected to soil loss in excess of 10 tonnes/ha./year.
Increased variations in rainfall pattern and intensity will make soils more susceptible to water erosion, with off-site effects of soil erosion increasing.
Increased aridity will make finer-textured soils more vulnerable to wind erosion, especially if accompanied by a decrease in soil organic matter levels.
Reliable quantitative projections for soil erosion are not available.
Soil water retention is a major soil hydrological property that governs soil functioning in ecosystems and greatly affects soil management.
There is no clear indication on past trends for water retention across the EU due to a lack of systematic and harmonised data.
Water retention capacity and soil moisture content will be affected by rising temperatures and by a decline in soil organic matter due to both changes in climate and land management.
Projections (for 2071–2100) show a general reduction in summer soil moisture over most of Europe, significant reductions in the Mediterranean region, and increases in the north-eastern part of Europe.
Maintaining water retention capacity and porosity are important to reduce the impacts of intense rainfall and droughts, which are projected to become more frequent and severe.
Soil carbon stocks in the EU-27 are around 75 billion tonnes of carbon; around 50 % of which is located in Ireland, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom (because of the large area of peatlands in these countries).
The largest emissions of CO 2 from soils are due to conversion (drainage) of organic soils, and amount to 20–40 tonnes of CO 2 per hectare per year. The most effective option to manage soil carbon in order to mitigate climate change is to preserve existing stocks in soils, and especially the large stocks in peat and other soils with a high content of organic carbon.
On average, soils in Europe are most likely to be accumulating carbon. Soils under grassland and forests are a carbon sink (estimated up to 80 million tonnes of carbon per year) whereas soils under arable land are a smaller carbon source (estimated from 10–40 million tonnes of carbon per year).
The effects of climate change on soil organic carbon and soil respiration are complex, and depend on distinct climatic and biotic drivers. However, they lack rigorous supporting datasets.
Climate change is expected to have an impact on soil carbon in the long term, but changes in the short term will more likely be driven by land management practices and land use change