An official website of the United States government.

This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2021. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work. More information »

EPA EcoBox

EPA EcoBox Tools by Exposure Pathways - Soil


SoilSoil can become contaminated as a result of direct or indirect discharges (e.g., from industrial activity, agricultural chemicals, landfills, biosolids), deposition of contaminants from the atmosphere, erosion of soil and runoff flow, and other processes.

Contaminated soil or dust particles can be deposited onto plant surfaces. A stressor released directly to soil could migrate by erosion and runoff flow to nearby soil or adjacent aquatic systems. Contaminants in surface soil can leach to subsoil and groundwater, and contaminated groundwater could discharge to a surface water body.

Exposure to contaminants in soil can occur from direct contact (e.g., ingestion, dermal) or indirect from transfer and subsequent contact with other media (e.g., uptake from soil into vegetation and subsequent ingestion). For example:

Indirect exposure occurs for animals that consume contaminated food and these contaminants can be transferred up the food chainHelpfood chainA food chain is formed as one organism eats another. A food web is a system of interlocking and interdependent food chains, in which each organism supplies energy to another life form..

The diagram below illustrates relationships between potential exposure pathways and potential ecological receptors after a source releases a stressor to soil.

Top of Page

Resources are provided below to assess exposure to ecological receptors that occurs via soil.

Potential exposure pathways and ecological receptors

Top of Page


Resources are provided below to assess exposure to ecological receptors that occurs via soil.

Some content on this page requires JavaScript in order to be viewed. If you wish to view content on this page, you must have JavaScript enabled.

Top of Page