The Most Polluted Rivers in the US

Garbage on water

Pollution has been a constant problem for the world leading to biological deterioration of habitats, changes in ecosystems and also affecting the human population in the process.

One of the major types of pollution is water pollution which pollutes water bodies such as lakes, rivers, streams and oceans; leading to the loss of species and making the water useless for humans. Rivers have been long-term sufferers of water pollution throughout the world.

Although the amount and number of polluted rivers in the world are considerably higher than the United States, the country still houses many rivers which have high levels of pollution damaging the environment. The United States hosts over 250,000 thousand rivers but it is said that about 3.5 million US citizens get sick by these rivers such as through drinking of contaminated drinking water, bathing in these waters or eating the fishes caught from these waters.

Here we will look at some of the most polluted rivers in the United States. If you live near to any of these rivers; better read ahead about what to do!

1. Ohio River

We start off with the Ohio River, which has the undisputed title of being the most polluted river in the United States of America by a country mile. Millions of chemicals are dumped into the river, from either privately owned business or from big corporations such as the AK steel groups which is without a doubt the largest contributor of pollutants in the Ohio River. The Ohio River is infamous for pollution even after strict rules and regulations were passed by government agencies, the river is still being largely neglected when it comes to pollution.

Over 90 percent of the pollutants are nitrate compounds, these too also being discharged by the AK steel group among others and also due to the use of high levels of pesticides around the river. Although the river is heavily polluted, it still maintains a high capacity of diluting the toxic products providing a safe and healthy environment for fishes which prefer high quality of water to harbor in. Although that isn’t all good news as high amounts of mercury contamination has led to warning and alerts being declared for the consumption of fish caught from the Ohio River.

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2. Mississippi River

After the Ohio River, the Mississippi river is the most polluted river in the United States and is considered genuinely the most polluted river as it lacks the diluting action of the Ohio River and also due to the recent oil spillage which occurred in the Mississippi river back in 2014.

It is constantly called names such as “The Big Muddy” and “The Colon of America” due to it being so heavily polluted and producing a brownish color on the surface. While the run off of sewage is a major contributor to the pollution of the river, agricultural products mainly fertilizers containing toxic chemicals such as benzene and arsenic have also helped largely in polluting the waters of the Mississippi River. These chemicals are known for causing various types of cancers and also other developmental defects and anomalies. The marine life there is very scarce due to the highly polluted water it contains. The government is largely at fault for not properly taking action against protecting the river from pollutants leading to its high level of toxicity which may be almost impossible to reverse.

3. Holston River

Another one of the rivers which suffers from high amounts of water pollution is the Holston River in Tennessee. The major threat from pollution that the Holston River faces is from the Holston Army Ammunition plant which releases high amount of RDX into the rivers which is a widely used explosive in warfare and terrorism. RDX is also known to be highly carcinogenic. RDX can cause various medical emergencies if inhaled by humans or animals such as seizures which can lead to immediate death within 30 minutes.

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The EPA has set a threshold of 2ug/L of RDX effluent into the Holston River in order to protect the environment, ecosystem and the marine living in it; Although samples collected from various sites of the Holston River indicate that the amount of RDX found in the river is more than double of the threshold that was set by the EPA showing a total lack of negligence by the Holston Army Ammunition Plant and the lack of ability of EPA to enforce their rules and regulations upon them. More severe government intervention is therefore required if the river is to be protected from becoming a far out dead-zone in the future.

4. Harpeth River

Also located in Tennessee, the Harpeth River hosts a wide range of marine biodiversity including up to fifty species of fish. This 125 mile stretch of water passes through one of America’s fastest growing cities making it susceptible to various pollutants and threatening the wide species of fishes in the Harpeth River.

The fishes have been widely affected from the river being polluted. One of the major mutations found in new fishes being born is that they have both male and female genitalia. The algae has led to the development of toxic environment in the river leading to inevitable death of marine live and the alteration of biodiversity in the river (Cultural Eutrophication).

5. New River

The New River is a 320 mile long river flowing through the states of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. The New River consists of pollution from agricultural runoffs, municipal discharge and industrial discharging making it also one of the most polluted rivers in the United States.

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The population boom around the river has led to constant waste being discharged into the river which has led to the development of a highly foul smelling odor around the river which can be smelled for long distances from the river.

The river houses various toxic chemicals such as DDT, PCBs, arsenic and mercury. Various pathogens also harbor the river leading to infectious diseases such as TB, typhoid and more. The immigrants which flee from Mexico into the US are at risk of contracting serious disease while crossing the river where as technicians working along the side of the river are forced to wear a double layer of personal protective equipment (PPE) so that they may be safe from contamination. You can also get PPE or at the very least, a mask, if you’re close to a pollution source.

What to do if you live near a polluted river in the US?

When you’re living near a polluted river, it’s not only water pollution you need to worry about but also Air pollution and Land pollution. 

The first thing you need to do is make sure on yourself if the water you’re getting in your tap is not polluted. You can use a water quality tester for that. Once you’re sure that the water is not up to your standards then you can go on to purify water at home using water purifiers or get bottled water (Worst case scenario). You can also get a few recycled and reusable bottles and have them filled from a water filtration plant.

The next part is Air Pollution. If the water is polluted, it can actually pollute the surrounding air as well. Now to test the air quality in your home due to nearby air pollution, you need an Indoor Air Quality Meter. After you test and find out the air quality is low or if you’ve been having sneezes and wheezes lately; it may be time for you to invest into an air purifier.

Land pollution is limited, but present around the banks of the river. If you can find trash that has made it out of the water on the banks, you can take it and throw it in the garbage. This will give the trash a chance to be recycled and not affect the marine life.

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