15 Most Polluted Rivers in the United States Today

In present times, pollution levels are surging to unprecedented heights. Regrettably, this has led to the contamination of numerous water sources, rendering them unfit for consumption due to the presence of harmful substances. Are you wondering what is the dirtiest river in the US? Presented below is a compilation of the 15 rivers in the United States that have been identified as the most severely polluted.

1. Calcasieu River

The Calcasieu River at Cameron, Louisiana, seen from the car ferry, Acadia. The Gulf of Mexico is three miles straight ahead.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Calcasieu River is located on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and holds the title of the dirtiest river in the US. It is approximately two hundred miles long and serves as a home to over four hundred species of plants and animals. Unfortunately, because it passes through dozens of industrial plants, it is filled with Petroleum chemicals that are poisoning its inhabitants.

2. Ohio River

Kentucky and Ohio River with blue sky and clouds
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

This well-known river isn’t just located in Ohio; it flows from Pennsylvania to Illinois, covering just under one thousand miles. The Ohio River’s leading cause of pollution is chemicals from steel companies, mainly Nitrate compounds. It is one of the dirtiest rivers in the US.

3. Mississippi River

The Mississippi river nearly overtops its banks at Audubon Park in Uptown New Orleans
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Mississippi River is the second largest in the United States, flowing over two thousand miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, since the Mississippi River flows through ten states, which all dump their waste in it, it is highly polluted. This river’s leading pollution causes are sewage, city waste, and agricultural wastes like arsenic.

4. Holston River

A foot bridge crosses over the South Holston River and the low fog that hangs over the water.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Holston River is located in Tennessee. The pollution in this river is mainly caused by the Holston Army Ammunition Plant’s chemical explosives. These kinds of chemicals are very poisonous, not just for animals but also for human health.

5. Harpeth River

A blue sky reflects in the water of the Harpeth River.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

This river is also located in Tennessee. Its pollution is mainly caused by lead-smelting plants in the area, which even mutate some fish in it. Although this river can still sustain life for some marine and plant species, that likely won’t be the case for long since it is one of the most polluted river in the US.

6. New River

Mountain Laurel in bloom, Grandview, overlook New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Raleigh County, West Virginia, USA
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

New River flows through North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia for just over three hundred miles. This river is quite popular for outdoor activities like hiking and camping. However, some chemicals like arsenic and mercury are present in the river.

7. Savannah River

Savannah River and Augusta, Georgia, USA Aerial.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Located at the borders of South Carolina and Georgia, this river is a source of drinking water and fish for most people who live in Chatham County, GA. Unfortunately, recent tests show that seventy percent of the river is polluted with mercury and lead, poisonous to humans and animals.

8. Cuyahoga River

View of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, and the Cuyahoga River from a park on the west bank of the river
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Cuyahoga River divides the city of Cleveland, which is a major manufacturing city. This is causing a lot of industrial pollution to invade this river. The pollution is so bad that it gives off air pollution and has even caught fire before, worsening the surrounding air quality.

9. Buffalo National River

A kayaker is floating down the Buffalo River near Ponca, Arkansas.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

This river in northern Arkansas is a popular destination for camping, hiking, and fishing. However, contaminants from manure fields are endangering the natural habitat of this river, and locals report a foul odor coming from it.

10. Tennessee River

Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA downtown over the Tennessee River.
Image Credit: Shutterstock/Sean Pavone

This river is located in — you guessed it — Tennessee. The population of the freshwater species inhabitants is diminishing because of pollution, including industrial chemicals, raw sewage, microplastics, and agricultural runoff.

11. Willamette River

bridge in portland
Image Credit: Deposit Photos

The Willamette River is in northwestern Oregon and flows for just under two hundred miles. The leading cause of pollution in this river is sewage waste. In 2000, this river became a National Priority Site for removing toxic waste.

12. Delaware River

bridge in delaware
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Mihai_Andritoiu

The Delaware River flows through four states — Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania — before entering the Atlantic Ocean. It used to be the home for about one hundred fish species, but today only twenty-three of them are left. The primary pollutant in this river is plastics. Shockingly it carries over 283,000 pounds of plastic waste annually through the river and to the ocean it connects to.

13. Thames River

Pequot Point Beach and New London Harbor Lighthouse at the mouth of Thames River in city of New London, Connecticut CT, USA.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Thames River is one of the shortest rivers in the United States, flowing just fifteen miles long. It is located in Connecticut and is green due to algal blooms, an obvious sign of pollution. This pollution is caused by an older sewage system that overflows during heavy rainfalls and a Pharmaceutical company nearby.

14. Rock River

View of the Rock River from the shoreline. Castle Rock State Park, Illinois, USA
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

This river flows through Illinois and Wisconsin and used to be host to thousands of species of animals before pollution took over. However, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment, mainly caused by construction sites and urban areas, have already destroyed most of the river’s ecosystem.

15. Mobile River

The Downtown Mobile, Alabama city skyline along the Mobile River Waterfront in June 2019.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

The Mobile River is located in southern Alabama and is about forty-five miles long. Nitrogen and mercury contaminate the river, which is poisonous to its inhabitants.

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