the most polluted rivers in the world

Comparing levels of pollution in different rivers around the world cannot be decided on just the amount of chemical waste being dumped into them.

(FYI: It’s a lot!)

However, for a better understanding we need to include other variables into the mix such as the number of people and species being affected by these contaminants.

It might be hard and difficult to get a proper view of the effects of pollutants but it’s necessary to map out the effects of a certain cause so we can find solutions.

Regardless of how we define pollution, Rivers mentioned below have undoubtedly been neglected for a very long time and need to be cleaned up for good.

1. Ganges River

The levels of toxins in the Ganges is 3000 times more than the level of toxins considered safe by WHO.

The Ganges, holy to Hindus, has been widely neglected for far too long even though it holds quite the significance in Hindu religion. However, the state of Ganges today is far from the religious importance it holds.

A wide range of waste including chemicals, chromium metal, 1 billion pounds of plastic, another billion pounds of raw sewage as well as countless human and animal carcasses (some just left to decompose while others cremated)get dumped into the Ganges.

With a growing population in India, the importance of Ganges is rising everyday with OVER 400 million people depending on it for agriculture, washing clothes, household needs and bathing. 

Pilgrims bathing in 'holy water' of Ganges

Scores of pilgrims come to the Ganges to worship and bathe even though Ganges is 3000 times more toxic than considered safe by WHO.

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2. Citaram River

Across 186 miles of Indonesian territory runs the Citaram River which supplies 30 million people with water but taking water from the Citaram may be a very risky affair.

Over 200 textile factories dump deadly metals including lead, arsenic and mercury into the Citaram.

Debris and plastic packaging float across the river constantly choking the river and killing fishes in their natural habitat. With fish populations decreasing, fishermen have turned to recycling plastic.

3. Yellow River

China is at the forefront of economic growth in the world, but at what cost?

The city of Shijiazhuang, regarded as one of the world’s most polluted cities, hosts a variety of chemical and pharmaceutical factories which dump blood-red waste into waterways. These waterways make their way to the Yellow River.

A report in 2008 claimed that sewage and wastewater discharged into the yellow river in the year 2007 amounted to 4.29 billion tonnes. This has made a third of yellow river unfit for drinking, agriculture or any household purposes.

This turned a yellow river (yellow because of muddy waters) into an ill purple due to enormous amounts of pollution.

4. Yamuna River

The Yamuna is the most polluted river in India.

is notorious about hosting a ton of pollutants which made the Central Water Commission to pass out a statement claiming the water was too dangerous to drink or use for agriculture.

Biochemical Oxygen demand (BOD) refers to the amount of oxygen required by living organisms to break down organic material. Once it reaches high levels, it acts like a pollutant. This gives rise to harmful bacteria that can act as a dangerous hazard to people living close to it.

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In the Yamuna river, BOD is as high as 50 times the normal level.

5. The Mississippi

The Mississippi, located in the North American continent, is the second-longest river (3730 Kilometers) in the United States.

According to Environment Missouri, as many as 13 million pounds of toxic chemicals including Arsenic, Benzene, Nitrates and Mercury were dumped into the Mississippi river in 2010.

Quite a bit of Mississippi’s length has dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs, sediment and other pollutants that make it dangerous for any use, Even swimming!

Immense volumes of fertilizer and untreated sanitary water flow into the Gulf of Mexico waterway which has created a dead zone.

6. The Sarno River

It’s one of the lesser known rivers on this list but one of the most controversial ones for sure.

The Sarno upstream, located in Italy, is so impeccably unpolluted that it’s the most polluted river in Europe.

If you travel along its length, you will see it covered with a layer of sticky oil and chemical foam, mainly because of dumping of agricultural and industrial waste.

It’s pretty straightforward right?

Well, research also shows presence of illicit drugs such as cocaine and morphine in the river. The consequences of that will have to be researched upon because this poses a completely different level of threat to the ecosystem than ever anticipated.

7. Pasig River

The Pasig river passes through the densely populated city of manila.

After the Second World War, people from all over the Philippines started migrating to Manila looking for jobs. This lead to formation of slums and industries around the city.

All of the sewage and waste from factories passed untreated into the Pasig. Now the river stands biologically dead.

8. Marilao River

Another river on the list of most polluted rivers in the world is Marilao river from the Philippines.

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Contamination of the Marilao River in the Philippines comes from a number of sources including precious metal refining, lead acid battery recycling, jewelry making and open dumpsites posing huge environmental consequences and consequences related to health.

Problems increase 10-fold when the marine life ingest the pollutants and those fish are consumed by humans, posing a significant risk of heavy-metal poisoning.

9. Tiete River

The Tiete is another river declared dead which runs through South America sewage and factory discharge has led to it forming toxic foam on the surface during dry months, giving rise to a massive public outcry.

Even today, 2.4 billion people lack basic sanitation facilities in the world.

10. Yangtze River

Saving the worst for last; Yangtze river is considered the most polluted river of Asia.

Almost half or 25 billion tons of China’s waste ends up in the Yangtze which supplies china with 40% of its freshwater and contributes to 40% of its GDP, fisheries are virtually extinct and severe health problems have surfaced such as intestinal diseases.

P.S: Yangtze is also the third-longest river in the world!


Reading about these rivers now and then gives me the shivers! Although it’s possible that the damage is done and can’t be reversed, but what we can do is try to reduce the damage done.

A simple way would be to buy from companies which engage in sustainable practices and for us to try and embrace a sustainable lifestyle.

Do read up on wastewater treatment processes used to ensure clean water comes to your homes.

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