20 Water Pollution Facts
for the U.S. and the World
by Merlin Hearn

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Understanding the following 20 water pollution facts has helped me become more aware of my personal contribution to the pollution problem.

In addition, they have inspired me to a much greater appreciation for water and the environment we live in.

I now know that individual small changes can make a huge difference in the big picture.

In order to fully understand these facts, it might be helpful to some folks is we briefly review the three main sources of water in the world. These include:

Surface Water - The most available drinking water comes from fresh surface water. This is the water we find in lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, glaciers and ice caps.

Ocean Water - The vast majority of water in the world is the ocean’s salt water. Ocean water accounts for about 98 percent of the water in the world.

Groundwater - Most of the world’s liquid fresh water is contained in underground aquifers. Water remains in an aquifer an average of 1,400 years and groundwater pollution is extremely difficult to treat because it does not readily wash out.

10 Water Pollution Facts for the U.S.

  1. Over two-thirds of U.S. estuaries and bays are severely degraded because of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution.
  2. Water quality reports indicate that 45% of U.S. streams, 47 percent of lakes, and 32 percent of bays are polluted.
  3. Forty percent of America’s rivers are too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life. The lakes are even worse -- over 46% are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.
  4. Every year almost 25% of U.S. beaches are closed at least once because of water pollution.
  5. Americans use over 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides every year, which eventually washes into our rivers and lakes.
  6. Over 73 different kinds of pesticides have been found in U.S. groundwater that eventually ends up in our drinking water - unless it is adequately filtered.
  7. The Mississippi River, which drains over 40 percent of the continental U.S., carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico every year. This resulting pollution is the cause of a coastal dead zone the size of Massachusetts every summer.
  8. Septic systems are failing all around the country, causing untreated waste materials to flow freely into streams, rivers, and lakes.
  9. Over 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, groundwater, and industrial waste are discharged into U.S. waters annually.
  10. The 5-minute daily shower most Americans take uses more water than a typical person in a developing country uses in a whole day.

10 Water Pollution Facts for Beyond the U.S.

  1. Pollution of surface water is a problem for over half of our planet’s population. Each year 250 million documented cases of water-borne diseases are documented, with roughly 5 to 10 million deaths.
  2. Fifty percent of worldwide groundwater is unsuitable for drinking because of pollution and only about .007% of the water on earth is accessible for human use.
  3. The world water pollution and sanitation crisis claims more lives through disease than any war can claim through the use of weapons.
  4. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. Children in polluted environments often carry about 1,000 parasitic worms in their bodies at any time.
  5. At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients with water-borne illnesses.
  6. Close to 85% of the total area of Bangladesh has contaminated groundwater, and the most dangerous contaminant is arsenic. Thus, 1.2 million people in this nation are exposed to the deadly effects of arsenic-contaminated water.
  7. Asian rivers are considered the most polluted in the world. They have three times as many bacteria from human waste as the global average and 20 times more lead than rivers in industrialized countries.
  8. In Ireland, about 30% of the rivers are polluted with fertilizers and sewage, which make them too polluted for swimming, fishing, or aquatic life.
  9. One of the most polluted rivers in the world is the King River in Australia. Over 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and other creatures have died from the toxins and acidity in this river.
  10. The U.N. estimates that by 2025, forty-eight nations, with combined populations of 2.8 billion, will face freshwater scarcity.


These facts give us just a glimpse into the devastating effects of water pollution.

To learn more water pollution facts, check out our articles on specific toxins and pollutants in water – as well as how to prevent pollution, both individually and collectively worldwide.

Investing in safe drinking water and sanitation is not only good for personal health and the environment, it contributes to economic growth.

For each $1 invested, the World Health Organization estimates returns of $3 to $34 dollars, depending on the region and technology used.


GrinningPlanet.com: Water Pollution Facts


Colorful table identifying world seas with serious water pollution problems

Join the 2011 National River Cleanup with American Rivers 

Return from 20 Water Pollution Facts to Types of Water Pollution

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