Top 15 Most Polluted Rivers in the World

A precious freshwater resource, rivers are the lifeline for a majority of the Earth’s population. Most of the water consumed by humans comes from the rivers. A means of sustenance, rivers also aid trade and transportation. They are usually formed through groundwater recharge or springs or from glaciers. They hold 2% of the total surface fresh water on earth, which can be roughly estimated to be 510 cubic miles. Ancient civilizations that have now evolved, used to thrive and flourish on river banks.
Over the years, human activities and misuse of resources have polluted rivers to a great extent. Industrial and domestic wastes are dumped into rivers; oil, and human excrement, substances like bottles and cans are major causes for river pollution. The amount of river pollution that humans have caused is alarming and dangerous. It is essential to be aware of the damage we’re causing to the environment and the fact that the onus lies upon us to keep it clean. To wake you up from the slumber, we present to you a list of top 15 most polluted rivers in the world-

15. Mississippi River, USA

The Mississippi River that flows through the US almost entirely is the fourth longest and ninth largest river in the world by discharge. It also happens to be one of the filthiest rivers in the world. Scientists have branded the river as “the most tainted coastal ecosystem in the world” and also “the most polluted river in the country.” According to a report, over 12.7 million pounds of toxic chemicals were dumped into the river in a single year. These toxic chemicals contaminate the drinking water and the sea food.


14. Cuyahoga River, Ohio, USA

Cuyahoga River
The name Cuyahoga is believed to mean ‘crooked river’ from the Mohawk Indian name Cayagaga. The river is located in Northeast Ohio and is known to be so polluted that it caught fire in 1969. The river was polluted since decades by industrial waste and was known to be oil sick. The river was brimming with sewage and industrial waste, so much so, that it was known to ‘ooze’ and not ‘flow’.


13. Buriganga River, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Buriganga River, or ‘old Ganges’, flows past the Dhaka city. For the city of Dhaka, the economic importance of this river is extremely high. The river is also the city’s prime source of drinking water. The present state of the river is filthy, with almost 4,500 tons of solid waste being discharged into the river every day, including chemical waste of industries, household waste, medical waste, plastics, oils and dead animals. The water of the river is now almost unusable for humans and livestock, which was once the lifeline of Dhaka.


12. Sarno River, Italy

Sarno River flows through the south of the Italian city of Naples. As a result of industrial waste, it is considered to be the most polluted river in Europe. The river has been polluted for over 20 years and contains wastes and chemical used in leather tanneries such as biocides, sodium sulphate, caustic soda, sulphuric acid and untreated agricultural and industrial waste. The pollution hampers the production of oxygen, affecting not only humans but also animals.


11. Jordan River, Israel

Jordan river israel
That which was once a biblical waterway is now a shallow, polluted murky body of water. The river was famous for being the well known site of Jesus’ baptism. The river now is just another victim of the Syrian civil war. Effluents and raw sewage are regularly dumped into the river which destroys the natural habitat. It is so polluted that the water of the river is an opaque brown colour. People who take a dip in the water for religious reasons are subjecting themselves to a number of health risks.


10. Matanza-Riachuelo River, Argentina

The Matanza River is a 64-kilometre long river in Argentina. The river is one of the most polluted rivers and chemical manufacturers are responsible for more than one third of the pollution. About 15,000 industries are actively releasing effluent into the river. The territory around the most polluted parts of the river is unfit for human population to survive. Owing to the multiple industries and the pollution of the river, diseases like diarrhea, cancer and respiratory diseases are common.


9. Marilao River, Philippines

Marilao River is an important river in Philippines and provides drinking and irrigation water to about 250,000 residents. This river system is extremely polluted due to the wastes dumped from industries, tanneries, gold and precious metals refineries. Small scale industries are also known to contaminate the river heavily. The heavy metal pollution of this river has caused immense environmental degradation and public health problems. The heavy metal pollution of this river is known to reduce life spans of humans.


8. Doce River, Brazil

In the November of 2015, a mining dam collapsed in southeastern Brazil, polluting the Doce River, Rio’s most important, to a great extent. The dam burst is termed as ‘Brazil’s worst ever environmental disaster’ and has severely affected the population of 1.6 million people living along the Doce river. The spilling of the toxic tailings into the Atlantic Ocean led to the devastation of the river ecosystem. The pollutants in the river can cause diarrhea and vomiting and can also affect the central nervous system.


7. Chaohu Lake, China

Chaohu Lake China
This water body is located in the Anhui province in China. A population of about 5 million people inhabits the area around the lake and it is used for irrigation, transportation and fishing. The lake is filled with algae and is almost green in color. What was supposed to be a freshwater lake is now only reduced to a pond of green sludge, owing to China’s rapid economic growth.


6. Pasig River, Philippines

pasig river
The Pasig River used to be an essential source of water for Spanish Manila. The Second World War led to massive population growth, construction of infrastructure and dumping of economic and industrial wastes into the river. The Pasig River was left neglected. Industrialization and dumping of wastes by factories had turned the river into sewage. As a result, the transport facilities provided by the river declined and the river started to emanate a foul smell.


5. Yangtze River, China

Rapid industrial and domestic production has led to unprecedented pollution of the Yangtze River. According to a study, there has been an increase of 73% pollution level in the river from hundreds of cities, over the last 50 years. About 25 billion tons of sewage and industrial waste is discharged into the river annually. Another significant reason for the river pollution is shipping discharges. One of the longest rivers in China, it receives more waste than any other in China- from factories, heavy metal industries, fertilizers and pesticides.


4. Yellow River, China

yellow river china
The Yellow River is the sixth longest river in the world. The river is an important one for China’s very existence. The river is also known as China’s ‘Mother River’. The river is called so because in the lower course of the river, muddy water arises from loess, making it yellow. Industrial wastes are heavily dumped into the river and it has been rendered ‘unsafe for any use’. Rapid industrial and economic growth has led to most of the Chinese rivers becoming toxic.


3. Yamuna River, India

Yamuna River in New Delhi, India. (Pollution, environmental, Scavengers at work in the Yamuna at Qudesia Ghat, Boat, Garbage)
Yamuna River is the longest tributary river of the Ganga in northern India. The capital of India, New Delhi is known to dump about 58% of its waste into the river. Surprisingly, Yamuna River is the reason for Delhi’s existence. The level of industrial pollution in Yamuna is thirteen times more than the permissible limit. Household garbage, municipal waste and soil erosion as a result of deforestation are major causes of the pollution of the river. After Ganga, Yamuna is the second most polluted river in India.


2. Ganga River, India

The Ganga is the largest river in India and also the holiest for the Hindus. The river provides water to almost 40% of India’s population across 11 states. Increase in the population density has caused enormous pollution in the river. Dumping of human and industrial waste is also a major cause of pollution. The river is a site of many religious practices, the remains of which are also dumped into the rivers. During festive seasons, over 70 million people take a dip in the river to wash off their past sins. Ganga is easily the most polluted river in India.


1. Citarum River, Indonesia

Citarum is the longest and the largest river in West Java, Indonesia and also the most polluted river in the world. In West Java, it has an important role to play as it supports water supply, industry, agriculture and fishery. About 5 million people live in its basin and the river is highly polluted by human activity. All kind of waste materials including baby diapers, plastic water bottles, and shoes can be seen floating in the river. The river is used more as a garage dump and toilet, owing to its filthy condition. High amounts of dyes and chemicals from industries including lead, arsenic and mercury are dumped into the river due to which an obscene odor emanates from it. The river is so choked with garbage and waste that it is almost unrecognizable.

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Gursimran Kaur

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  • The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities, resulting in the Clean Water Act, Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the creation of the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA). As a result, large point sources of pollution on the Cuyahoga have received significant attention from the OEPA in recent decades. These events are referred to in Randy Newman’s 1972 song “Burn On,” R.E.M.’s 1986 song “Cuyahoga,” and Adam Again’s 1992 song “River on Fire.” Great Lakes Brewing Company of Cleveland named its Burning River Pale Ale after the event.

    Water quality has improved and, partially in recognition of this improvement, the Cuyahoga was designated one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998. Despite these efforts, pollution continues to exist in the Cuyahoga River due to other sources of pollution, including urban runoff, nonpoint source problems, combined sewer overflows, and stagnation due to water impounded by dams. For this reason, the Environmental Protection Agency classified portions of the Cuyahoga River watershed as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. The most polluted portions of the river now generally meet established aquatic life water quality standards except near dam impoundments. The reasons for not meeting standards near the dam pools are habitat and fish passage issues rather than water quality. River reaches that were once devoid of fish now support 44 species. The most recent survey in 2008 revealed the two most common species in the river were hogsuckers and spotfin shiners, both moderately sensitive to water quality. Habitat issues within the 5.6 miles (9.0 km) navigation channel still preclude a robust fishery in that reach. Recreation water quality standards (using bacteria as indicators) are generally met during dry weather conditions, but are often exceeded during significant rains due to nonpoint sources and combined sewer overflows.