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Created by Britton Marg

8 Most Polluted Rivers in the US

There are two types of pollutants that rivers contain: organic and inorganic. The former comes from run-offs of pesticides and …

There are two types of pollutants that rivers contain: organic and inorganic. The former comes from run-offs of pesticides and fertilizers in residential yards, while the latter originates from industrial waste, sediment, raw sewage, pet waste, and farm runoff. Human activity is definitely not doing wonders for our already polluted waterways.

Most polluted rivers in the US

Ohio River

Extending 981 miles, the Ohio River begins at the meeting of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and ends in Cairo, Illinois where it flows into the Mississippi.

The Ohio River is the lifeblood for more than 25 million people living in its basin, which supplies drinking water for nearly 10% of America. [1]

Environment America released a report detailing that, in 2020, more toxic pollution was dumped into the Ohio River watershed by heavy industry than in any other area in the United States. This discharging of 41 million pounds came from coal-fired power plants, steel, and aluminum manufacturers, petrochemical plants, and other businesses. [2]

Calcasieu River

The Calcasieu River is one of the most polluted rivers in the United States.

This river has been heavily polluted with toxic chemicals and heavy metals due to chemical companies’ industrial wastes discharged. The toxins in the water have caused serious health problems for people living near the river, as well as for wildlife.

Chemical companies need to be held responsible for their actions, and the government needs to do more to protect people and animals from the harmful effects of these pollutants.

After years of dumping toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the Calcasieu River, nine southwest Louisiana companies have finally agreed to pay the federal government 5.5 million dollars. [3]

It is important that these companies are held accountable for their actions, and that the government does more to protect people and animals from the dangers of pollution.

Mississippi River

Stretches of the Mississippi River within the park corridor exceed water quality standards for mercury, bacteria, sediment, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), and nutrients. Unfortunately, this can make the water unsuitable for fishing, swimming, and drinking.[4]

It’s no secret that our rivers are polluted. Most of the toxic pollutants in our rivers come from agricultural runoff. Fertilizers and pesticides from residential yards and farms flow into rivers, polluting them with harmful chemicals causing a toxic environment. This is one of the main reasons for the Mississippi being so polluted, and it needs to be addressed urgently.

Tennessee River

The Tennessee River is one of the most polluted water ways in the United States, and a recent study found alarmingly high levels of microplastics in the river. Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic that can come from many sources, including cosmetics, clothing, and food packaging. They can be harmful to human health and aquatic life. [5]

Cuyahoga River

The Cuyahoga River is so polluted that it has caught fire on several occasions. Running through Ohio, this river inspired the passage of the Clean Water Act passed in 1972. This river is full of industrial waste and is one of the most polluted rivers in the US.

Holston River

The Holston Army Ammunition Plant discharges RDX, a toxic chemical explosive and possible human carcinogen, into the Holston River. This river supplies drinking water for more than 56,000 residents in Tennessee and Virginia. [6] … Continue reading

Harpeth River

The Harpeth River in Tennessee has been heavily contaminated from sewage pollution. The Harpeth River is currently suffering from phosphorus pollution, discharged by the City of Franklin, and because of this, it does not meet state water quality standards for low dissolved oxygen. This means that the river has too much pollution; therefore, no additional phosphorous pollution can be legally discharged into the water bodies.

New River

The New River has been a pollution concern since the 1940s because of its high levels of toxic substances, including fecal coliform bacteria.[7]

The most polluted rivers in the US are unfortunately also some of the most populated. As the population grew, so does the amount of waste being pumped into the river.

Associated health problems

Every year, more than two million people die from diarrhoeal diseases. The primary cause of these deaths is contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation. In addition to causing disease, contaminated water, and the environment can lead to gastrointestinal illnesses that prevent the absorption of nutrients and result in malnutrition. These effects are especially severe for children. [8]

If sewage waste was properly treated, it would eliminate environmental pollution and more than 50 diseases. Poor water quality is the cause of 80% of diseases and 50% of child deaths worldwide. [9]

What to do if you live near a polluted water river in the us.

Not only does water pollution near a river impact those living nearby, but air and land pollution become issues as well.

Firstly, use a water quality tester to check if the water from your tap is clean. If it’s not up to your standards, then you should consider buying a water purifier. Also avoid eating fish from the contaminated bodies of water, as they can be hazardous to your health .

Polluted water adds to air pollution

Air pollution is the next topic. If water is polluted, it can spread to contaminate the air too. To test how much surrounding air pollution has entered your home, you need an Indoor Air Quality Meter. After testing and finding out that the quality of air in your house is low, buying an air purifier might be a good investment.

Bottom line

The pollution in these eight rivers is already severe, and it’s only expected to get worse as companies keep dumping toxins into them. The ecosystem around these rivers will continue to degrade until something is done to clean them up and stop the flow of pollutants. To save these rivers, we must demand that municipalities and businesses change their practices and end the cycle of destruction.


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I'm a clean energy enthusiast, and I am always looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint, and this blog is my way of sharing what I have learned with you. I love to use a methodical approach to finding different methods that we can use to reduce our carbon footprint and help to save the planet.

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