The Russian system of environmental legislation needs to be improved to maintain human health and the environment


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Employees of the Faculty of Geography of Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU) proposed how to improve the Russian system of rationing the chemical element contents in soils. Scientists study the migration of chemical elements in a ‘soil – plant’ system, and also conduct a detailed analysis of foreign experience in standardizing soil quality. In September 2019, geographers completed the chemical analysis of samples collected during the field work in 2018 in the Kurgan, Omsk and Novosibirsk regions of Russia (Western Siberia).

The work supported by the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) is carried out by employees and students of the Geography Faculty and the Faculty of Soil Science of MSU.

— In Russia, new maximum permissible concentrations (MPCs) for chemical elements in soils have not revise or justify for a long time. It is important to evaluate the content of chemical elements in soils to obtain safety agricultural products and to remove soils contaminated in an appropriate time, — said the head of the expeditionary work, senior researcher at the Geography Department of MSU, the head of the RSF project #17-77-20072 Ivan Semenkov.

In the Netherlands, Germany, the USA, Canada and Russia, the environmental legislation systems for soil quality assessment are considered to be the most developed. In addition, geographers of MSU analyzed similar systems in Finland, the Czech Republic, China, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The soil quality standards for the content of chemicals are developed on the basis of several parameters: the subject of rationing, the geochemical background, the risk of carcinogenic effects, actions in case of exceeding the standard (fine, soil remediation or removing contaminated substance), generic or universal.

Depending on the soil type (clayic or sandic, rich in humus or not), the standards differ only in Canada (only for organic pollutants), Russia, Germany, China, and the Czech Republic. Strengthening the negative impact on organisms with the simultaneous intake of several chemicals is provided only in Russia and the USA. Even if one and the same standard is taken into account, certain features can result in differences for the resulting standard. For example, different time periods are used to calculate the risk of carcinogenic effects. Even in case of methodologically close approaches, it is necessary to analyze the entire system for developing a standard.

The justification of soil quality standards reflects historically determined features of farming, population distribution, the ratio of environmental and economic values in decision making, the geochemical background (i.e., the heterogeneity of the composition of parent materials). For example, in the South African system, there are separate standards for formal and informal settlements. New Zealand has a special approach to settlements. There, so-called ‘Residential soil contaminant values’ is focused on individual houses, where up to 10% of the vegetables consumed daily are collected from their own residential lot. In New Zealand, ‘Rural residential soil contaminant values’ is aimed at protecting the health of farmers' families (home-grown produce consumption is less than 25%), but not the productive parts of agricultural land. In Germany, the standards for agricultural lands where it is supposed to grow wheat for bread or sheep breeding are higher than for other agricultural lands.

— Among the countries examined, Russia leads in the total number of standards for total content and mobile fractions of chemical elements in soils. However, in Russia, there are no standards for a number of chemical elements, for example, for silver, beryllium, molybdenum and thallium that are increasingly considered as the most common pollutants. In cities, to assess the current ecological state of soils, foreign standards could be used taking into account the local geochemical background, — said Ivan Semenkov.

The domestic system for standardizing soil quality can be improved by developing generic standards for special territories within cities – parks, residential areas, industrial zones, and roadside territories. In addition, it is important to justify the standards for areas with an increased geochemical background and update the existing standards by harmonizing the analytical technics recommended in the mid-20th century and modern soil analysis methods.


Contact person: Ivan Semenkov,

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