Water Pollution Statistics

A pile of pollution on a sunny beach


We live in an advanced society where technology and various other inventions are a regular part of our life. Because we get so swept up in our daily lives, especially while using these technologies, we sometimes forget to realize where they come from. In the creation of these technologies, harmful gases are created and spread into the air. This then starts the process of pollution, which is the release of (often harmful) contaminants into the environment, whether into the air or our bodies of water. Air pollution can be both unavoidable and unfortunately sometimes necessary, but what about water pollution?

Water Pollution Stats Around The World

Water Pollution Statistics By County

The image above is a graph provided by Statista. It illustrates the effects of pollution all around the world, air, water, etc. The top three nations with the greatest number of pollution-related deaths per year are India, China, and Nigeria, with India being responsible for 2.33 million deaths and Nigeria being responsible for 279,318 deaths per year. This is in 2019 alone, and some forms of pollution keep increasing every year.

“A 2016 preliminary assessment of the water quality situation in rivers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia…estimates that severe pathogenic pollution affects around one-third of all rivers, severe organic pollution around one-seventh of all rivers, and severe and moderate salinity pollution around one-tenth of all rivers in these regions.” This analysis reported by the United Nations Environment Program illustrates what water pollution looks like all over the world. When you look into some of the countries located in said mentioned continents, you can kind of get an idea of what they're talking about. China is one of the biggest producers in the world, so you would expect the country to be troubled with air pollution as well as water pollution, due to the waste created by industrial factories as well as the incorrect and improper disposal of said waste. Though some countries in Africa such as Libya and Ghana not only have contaminated water but also lack resources and money to remedy their problem. That is why so many people in these impoverished countries contract various and dangerous ailments, and they often end up dying, especially young children or older adults with weakened immune systems.

What is Water Pollution?

Water pollution is the contamination of bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, oceans, etc. This in turn ruins the quality of water and hurts the aquatic life living underwater, and it can sometimes also reach our own household water sources and harm our health as well. What causes water pollution mainly has to do with human activities, such as trash throwing, disposing of industrial and production waste improperly, and generally incorrect waste management. According to PawsomeAdvice, 80% of sewage in developing countries is dumped untreated.

Common water pollutants include trash that we throw into the water or throw on the streets and end up in the water. Other surprising sources are sewage and industrial waste. In fact, according to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), untreated sewage in many developing countries is often released and pollutes oceans, rivers, and lakes. Not only that, but oil spills such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 also cause a lot of damage to our waters and especially to the aquatic life that resides underwater. And while a lot of us around the world do our best to prevent the different forms of pollution, it is going to take a lot more time because water pollution is rapidly continuing to grow around the world.

According to the NRDC, almost half of the rivers and one-third of the lakes in the United States are too unsafe to fish from, swim in, or even drink from because of how polluted they are. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an initiative, How's My Waterway, to provide Americans with a means to look up how polluted their local bodies of water are and what their quality is according to EPA data.

According to the Priyam Study Centre, the particles that cause water pollution seeps into groundwater through the soil or go directly into rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans. Water pollution can also be caused by microorganisms, thermal energy, and nuclear power that interfere with the natural properties of water.

Stats for water pollution and animals

USA Today published an article in 2017 stating that almost one-fifth of the United States (which is almost 63 million people) doesn't have access to clean water. Said water may include contaminants such as chemicals from various sources and arsenic. And unfortunately, some of the population exposed to this unsafe water reside in areas that cannot afford the resources and the equipment to help filter out these contaminants. As a result, many people are susceptible to cancer, gastrointestinal disease, and developmental problems for children. Contaminated water has been a frequently occurring problem in recent years, as we were able to see happen to communities in Flint, Michigan, and in East Chicago, Indiana. In their cases, the water had been contaminated with lead, which was a result of older pipes. Statistically, these problems occur in places where more poverty or people lack resources.

We at Sourgum Waste encourage not only our customers, but everyone in general to learn more about water pollution and its effects. We care about our environment, and we want to preserve, protect and improve it for years to come. We have partnered with One Tree Planted to help us accomplish our goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the waste management industry. For every dumpster rented, we donate to One Tree Planted, and they plant a tree in a forest in need of more vegetation. If you would like to learn more about our sustainability efforts, read more about Sourgum Waste's sustainability efforts.

Types of Water Pollution

FairPlanet, a non-profit journalistic platform dedicated to environmental issues, has developed a simplified list of the various types of water pollution, which we have summarized below.

Chemical Pollution - the most common type of water pollution

Surface Water Pollution

  • Includes lagoons, rivers, oceans, and lakes

  • Results from mixing surface water with pollutants like spilled oil or improperly disposed industrial waste

Groundwater Pollution

  • When chemicals on the surface soil seep into the ground via rainwater

  • This occurs most frequently in areas near farms, due to the use of chemical fertilizer

Suspended Matter Pollution

  • When things like straws, cans, and other waste enter water systems and do not break down. This can lead to oxygen depletion, as mentioned below, as it disrupts oxygen flow in and out of the water.

Biological Pollutants - take different forms

Nutrient Pollution

  • When fertilizer-contaminated water is introduced to larger bodies of water, increasing underwater vegetation to an unsustainable level, contaminating the water supply

Oxygen Depletion Pollution

  • Caused by the introduction of biodegradable substances in the water, increasing the microorganisms in the water

  • These microorganisms take too much oxygen from the water, making it dangerous for larger water animals

  • Could also increase certain microorganisms that contaminate the water by producing toxins

Microbiological Pollution

  • A natural type of contamination of water caused by microorganisms and other disease-carrying substances being introduced to the water

PFAS: The Pesky Culprits

What Are PFAS?

Much of US water contamination is caused by PFAS, polyfluorinated substances, and man-made chemicals introduced in the 1940s when mass production of aerosol spray cans and other plastic items began. They are found in a wide range of consumer and industrial products. These chemicals take a very long time to break down and leave lasting traces of plastic pollution in the environment they interact with.

According to the EPA, they can be found in products such as:

  • Fire extinguishing foam

  • Manufacturing or chemical production

  • Food packaging

  • Household products

  • Personal care products

Additionally, PFAS are known to be found in food products, especially in seafood due to the direct contamination of PFAS in water. For more information about what to do if you are concerned about PFAS in your food, visit the FDA's Questions and Answers on PFAS in Food page.

PFAS and Your Health

Although they have been around for a while, there has been very little research about PFAS' specific effects on the environment.

There are, however, several concerns regarding how PFAS affects your health.

According to the EPA, recent studies revealed that long-term exposure to certain types of PFAS can lead to:

  • Reproductive effects such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women

  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioral changes

  • Increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers

  • Reduced ability of the body's immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response

  • Interference with the body's natural hormones

  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity

Water Pollution and Global Health

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) provides valuable and helpful information on the subject of water. It is important to be aware of how unclean, contaminated water can affect not only the environment but also us and our health. Some connections between contaminated water and human health include:

  • There are standards and regulations set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that all public water systems must follow, by law.

  • Community water fluoridation prevents tooth decay, and it is known as one of the biggest environmental accomplishments of the 20th century.

  • 780 million people in the whole world do not have access to clean water sources

  • Contaminated drinking water, lack of water for hygiene use, and lack of sanitation practices all contribute to 88% of deaths due to diarrheal diseases worldwide.

  • In 1993, the largest waterborne disease to ever happen in the United States took place. This disease was caused by a parasite, Cryptosporidium, that had contaminated the drinking water of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security is an American non-profit organization that focuses its research on environmental and development issues with a specialized focus on global and regional freshwater. They also provide useful and important information on the subject of water pollution statistics such as:

  • Every day, 2 million tons of sewage, industrial, and agricultural waste is released into the water all around the world. This is the equivalent of the weight of 6.8 billion people.

  • Infectious waterborne diseases are the number one killer of young children all around the world. More people die from contaminated water every year than from war and other forms of violence.

According to the NRDC, water pollution kills. As stated above, some types of water contamination involve diseases and other biological contaminants. By drinking, bathing, or even consuming food grown in this polluted water, one can develop several illnesses.

According to the World Health Organization, some of the most common illnesses associated with polluted water include cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Other issues include malnutrition, poor hygiene (which also causes more water contamination), and schistosomiasis - an acute and chronic disease caused by parasitic worms contracted through exposure to infected water.

The NRDC also mentions that poor water infrastructure, affected by cost-cutting measures, leads to metal contaminants that increase the amount of lead and mercury in the water supply in addition to sewage contamination.

The health effects of water pollution are not just current diseases that will run their course. The illnesses that develop due to poor water quality will recur until the water quality is improved. Additionally, the healthcare costs of treating those illnesses will continue to increase until the people affected have access to clean water.

Number of people without access to safe drinking water

Because water pollution affects both us as humans and our environment, it is up to us to take steps toward fixing this problem. If we don't take steps to fix water pollution, we could harm ourselves and those who live in impoverished areas because contaminated water can make us ill and sometimes even cause death.

Water Pollution, Industry & The Economy

Water pollution influences many parts of your health and potentially your food supply. But did you know that water pollution also impacts various areas of the industry?

For some brief information on the various effects of water pollution on the industry, check out this infographic from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Water pollution effects on the economy

Water pollution is a big drain on the economy, not just because of how it affects industry practices, but because of its impacts in other areas. For instance, the pollution of water used to grow crops creates supply chain issues for food, increasing their prices and crippling the farming industry.

What Is Being Done to Clean up Water Pollution

According to the Safe Drinking Water Foundation, "Removing the source pollution can be as easy as digging up a leaking oil tank or as difficult as legislating controls on a toxic substance."

Legislation is a large part of how Water Pollution is regulated, prevented, and cleaned. For example, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to control hazardous waste, from creating standards for underground storage to monitoring the treatment of radioactive waste.

Some standards specifically regulate the quality of drinking water, The Clean Water Act sets standards for water that have various uses including fishing, recreation, agricultural and livestock watering, and drinking water.

Each state has different standards for water quality, check out the standards for your state.

How to Help Stop Water Pollution

In addition to legislation, many start-ups, charities, and businesses are dedicated to cleaning water pollution. You can help stop water pollution by donating to and buying from these charities and businesses.

There are many ways we can stop, or at least reduce and prevent water pollution. According to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), we can:

  • Reduce the amount of plastic use, or recycle and reuse plastics correctly.

  • Dispose of chemical cleaners, oils, and non-biodegradable items correctly to make sure they don't end up in places they don't belong, like our waters.

  • Regularly check up on your car and take it to get serviced regularly so it doesn't leak oil, antifreeze, or coolant.

  • If you have a yard, consider landscaping that reduces runoff and avoid applying pesticides and herbicides. Be sure to properly dispose of any yard waste.

  • If you have a dog or any pet that can go outdoors, make sure you clean up after them, especially after they poop.

  • Additionally, you can vote! Candidates in local elections likely have a position on water quality and other environmental legislation, so make the green choice that will help your area improve its environmental impact during your next election.

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