Research, Wildlife and Landscape Science

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Soil Toxicology

Image of laboratory growth chamber | Photo: Lee Beaudette, Environment CanadaSoil has a natural ability to retain most pollutants released into the environment. Accidental spills and a history of various land disposal and storage practices can result in the release of hazardous substances into soil environments.

Soil toxicology is a branch of environmental toxicology that examines the toxicity of chemical, physical or biological substances to organisms and plants that inhabit the soil.

Absorption, degradation, bioaccumulation, chemical composition, topography, climate, biotic activity, and other variables are all factors that may influence the risks toxic substances pose to biota and environments.

Wildlife and landscape researchers at Environment Canada study the effects of toxic substances on biota and environments in order to assess the risks that pollutants may pose to Canadians and their environment.

The ability to evaluate the risk of a substance to organisms relies on an understanding of their importance to soil habitats, but also good tools with which to assess these risks.

Image of soil toxicologist gathering sample for laboratory testing | Photo: Lee Beaudette, Environment CanadaResearch is underway to develop, validate, standardize and utilize soil toxicity test methods that provide a balance between chemical and biological measurements. These efforts result in tools that help to better evaluate the realistic risk of individual chemical, physical or biological substances and contaminant mixtures in soils.

Soil toxicity test methods provide tools to support the ability for industry and government to perform realistic site-specific ecological risk assessments, and also serve to assess the effectiveness of remediation programs for the maintenance and sustainability of Canada’s ecozones. 

Methods developed by researchers are part of a suite of tools used by governments, industry, private laboratories and others to:

These methods are developed in partnership with other Environment Canada staff, and regional, provincial and private-sector laboratories. Researchers provide guidance on toxicological data interpretation and program application within Environment Canada and many partner organizations.

Image of earthworm sample for toxicity testing | Photo: Juliska Princz, Environment Canada Current research activities include:

Image of soil ecosystem | Photo: Greg Grabas, Environment Canada

Experts on soil toxicology

Further reading