7 Most Polluted Rivers in the U.S.

The most polluted rivers in the US are a sign that the country must wake up to keep the problem from growing worse. Pollution is a problem for half of US rivers, according to the 2013 EPA report. The document revealed that 55 percent of the country’s rivers were in poor condition with conditions getting worse.

As reported in the Washington Post in January of 2018, The Trump administration is making changes to reduce or eliminate environmental regulations to benefit the fossil-fuel industry’s pocketbook. Environmental activists expect these revisions to lead to more water pollution.

A routine disposal practice of dumping ash into unlined pits means it is likely to seep into rivers and groundwater, contaminating drinking water with lead and arsenic; adding more names to the most polluted rivers in the US.

Common Pollutants

Rivers contain both organic and inorganic pollutants. Pesticides and fertilizers run off from residential yards into rivers. Biological pollutants such as pet waste, sediment and farm waste are also found in polluted river water. Nitrates and phosphates are also common contaminants found in the most polluted rivers in the US. Industrial waste is also a huge problem and is ruining the rivers.

Most Polluted Rivers in the US

Ohio River aerial view

The Ohio River

1. Ohio River

The Ohio River is distinguished as one of the most polluted rivers in the US. Industrial waste is the main problem, with AK Steel Corporation as the main offender. Fisherman have been warned about the high mercury levels in the fish.

2. Mississippi River

The brown color of the Mississippi River is caused by sediment and is the reason this large mass of water is often referred to as the Big Muddy. Fertilizer contaminants in the Mississippi are responsible for a dead zone of 6000 to 8000 square miles located where the river runs into the Gulf of Mexico.

3. Tennessee River

In a study, 121 people from the area were tested and shown to have elevated PFOA levels in the blood. A lawsuit was filed against corporate polluters of the Tennessee River. There is little doubt that the health of the four million people drinking this water has been compromised. Health risks related to thyroid disease, cancer, immune system problems and ulcerative colitis increase with the pollutants present in the Tennessee River.

4. 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 is one of the most polluted rivers in the US.

5. Holston River

Another Tennessee river makes the list of most polluted rivers in the US. Holston River is seriously polluted with toxic chemicals. The Holston Army Ammunition Plant is the chief source of contaminants. Specifically, the carcinogen, Research Development Explosive (RDX) was dumped from the plant into the river.

6. Harpeth River

The appearance of deformed fish with both female and male reproductive organs have been found in the Harpeth River. Sewage waste and the runoff of stormwater create algal blooms which encourages a toxic environment for water life. Host to over 50 different fish species, Harpeth River’s pollution is particularly alarming.

7. New River

The stench from New River is unmistakable and points to the high level of pollution in the water. This river flows into California from Mexico. Pollutants from industrial dumps and agricultural runoff contain mercury, pet waste, DDT, arsenic, and PCBs. The pollutants are so dangerous that technicians who work on the river have to wear protective equipment as a precaution.

Ecological Implications

dead fish in the river

Aquatic ecosystems suffer from nutrient pollution that causes the growth of algae. The thick green vegetation is easy to spot and destroys everything from property values to wildlife and the ecosystem. Toxins from the algae are harmful or deadly to river life.

Dead fish floating on top of a polluted river is a sure sign that a river is polluted. Clear water with algal blooms make it difficult or impossible for fish and other river life to get the food they need. This dire situation forces many fish to leave that location, or in the worst case scenarios, die.

As many as 166 dead zones have been documented. These areas have been deprived of oxygen so that they no longer support life. Younger fish and bottom dwellers like crab are usually the first to be impacted, and are more likely to die as a result. The largest dead zone in the US is a 5840 square foot area in the Gulf of Mexico.

Associated Health Problems

Health problems can be caused by exposure to toxic algae in a number of different ways. Swimming in contaminated water, washing your hands in it or drinking it can cause mild to serious health issues. Some of the most common problems are stomach upset, liver problems, neurological issues, rashes and respiratory distress.

Water contaminated with nitrates can cause very serious health problems for babies. When a baby’s skin turns blue or is suddenly short of breath, immediate medical attention is necessary. Babies can die from nitrate pollution.

Wrapping Up

These seven rivers listed above are already polluted and the list is expected to grow as companies enjoy more freedom to ignore environmental concerns. The ecosystem will continue to degenerate in these river areas until steps are taken to clean up the rivers and ban the release of more toxins. The only solution to stopping the destruction of these rivers is to force companies and municipalities to stop adding to the problem that created the most polluted rivers in the US.

The current political environment worries environmentalists. With millions of dollars at stake for the worst offenders, companies resist regulations whenever possible. Currently, the stakes are high in this ongoing battle to save US rivers.

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  • we can put men on the moon, shoot space crafts all over the universe, feed and arm most of the world but cannot take care of ourselves!