Water Pollution


Water pollution and climate change are interconnected in several significant ways, each exacerbating the other and creating a cycle of environmental and health issues.

First and foremost: As the oceans work overtime to absorb carbon dioxide emissions, they are becoming both warmer and more acidic. Significant changes in ocean current patterns are also occurring. All of these factors are a major threat to ocean health and marine species.

As climate change progresses, it will affect water pollution in other, very direct ways. Increasingly intense and frequent storms can lead to increased runoff from agricultural fields, urban areas, and industrial sites, carrying pollutants into water bodies. Floods can overwhelm wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems, leading to the discharge of untreated sewage into rivers, lakes, and oceans. During droughts, the volume of water in rivers and lakes decreases, which can concentrate pollutants and make water sources more toxic. Climate change’s negative impact on ecosystem services can also prevent natural processes from cleaning water. 

Water Pollution and Your Health

Water pollution is a critical environmental issue that directly affects the health of millions worldwide. Pollutants in water come from various sources, including industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and sewer overflows. These contaminants can introduce harmful substances like heavy metals, pathogens, and toxic chemicals into our drinking water. Even trace amounts can pose significant health risks over time.

Exposure to polluted water can cause:

Gastrointestinal Issues: Drinking contaminated water can lead to infections, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Neurological Problems: Certain toxins, like lead and mercury, can impact brain function and development, particularly in children.

Reproductive and Developmental Effects: Chemicals such as endocrine disruptors can interfere with reproductive health and fetal development. Water pollution is linked to declining male fertility

Chronic Diseases: Long-term exposure to polluted water can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as cancer, kidney damage, and liver disease.

Vulnerable populations, such as those in developing countries or low-income communities, are often the most affected, facing higher risks of illness and reduced access to clean water.



A Hidden Threat

By Brady Dennis and Others 05/22/24
On the worst days, when the backyard would flood and the toilet would gurgle and the smell of sewage hung thick in the air, Monica Arenas would flee to her mother-in-law’s home to use the…
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New rules will slash air, water and climate pollution from U.S. power plants

By Maxine Joselow 04/25/24
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday finalized an ambitious set of rules aimed at slashing air pollution, water pollution and planet-warming emissions spewing from the nation’s power plants.
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E.P.A. Will Make Polluters Pay to Clean Up Two ‘Forever Chemicals’

By Coral Davenport 04/19/24
The Biden administration is designating two “forever chemicals,” man-made compounds that are linked to serious health risks, as hazardous substances under the Superfund law, shifting responsibility for their cleanup to polluters from taxpayers.
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Six Things to Know About ‘Forever Chemicals’

By Lisa Friedman 04/10/24
The federal government is ordering the removal of PFAS, a class of chemicals that poses serious health risks, from drinking water systems across the country....
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US imposes first-ever limits on levels of toxic PFAS in drinking water

By Tom Perkins 04/10/24
The US Environmental Protection Agency has set legally enforceable drinking water limits for a group of the most dangerous PFAS compounds, marking what public health advocates hailed as “historic” rules that will dramatically improve the…
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E.P.A. Says ‘Forever Chemicals’ Must Be Removed From Tap Water

By Lisa Friedman 04/10/24
For the first time, the federal government is requiring municipal water systems to remove six synthetic chemicals linked to cancer and other health problems that are present in the tap water of hundreds of millions…
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Is cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch worth the effort?

By Andrew Kersley 01/15/24
IT WAS a glorious sunny day in September 2023. Excitement filled the air and a rainbow stretched across the horizon as the team slowly hauled a giant net out of the glistening sea. The Ocean…
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New Pennsylvania Legislation Aims to Classify ‘Produced Water’ From Fracking as Hazardous Waste

By Jake Bolster 09/06/23
Katie Muth knew it would be a long shot. This January, the Pennsylvania state senator reintroduced three pieces of legislation aimed at closing loopholes in the laws governing how the oil and gas industry disposes…
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Flesh-Eating Bacteria a Threat in Warm Water

By Christopher Walsh 08/24/23
As if the extreme heat, exceptionally heavy rainfall events, and out-of-control wildfires that characterize the summer of 2023 were not adequate signals that the climate is changing, in recent weeks a deadly bacterium found in…
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Fighting future ‘red tides’ in San Francisco Bay

By Lisa M. Krieger 08/20/23
The largest sources of nutrient pollution and algae blooms in the San Francisco Bay — 37 different sewage treatment plants — are cleaning up their act.
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Pollution is threatening Cape Cod’s famous waters. Its towns are spending hundreds of millions to head off an environmental disaster.

By Beth Treffeisen 08/18/23
On Cape Cod, poorly maintained and aging septic systems are a primary cause of the nitrogen pollution that plagues coastal ecosystems. The deteriorating water quality is causing people to lose out on recreational and commercial…
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Flesh-Eating Bacteria at the Beach? What You Need to Know

By Roni Caryn Rabin 08/18/23
With Labor Day and the start of a new school year looming, throngs of New Yorkers will head to the beach this weekend, braving traffic, sunburns, maybe sharks — and Vibrio vulnificus, a nasty, flesh-eating…
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Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know

Water pollution occurs when harmful substances—often chemicals or microorganisms—contaminate a stream, river, lake, ocean, aquifer, or other body of water, degrading water quality and rendering it toxic to humans or the environment.

Water Pollution

Everyday we turn on the tap and get a glass of water, brush our teeth, wash our hands, and cook our food. We need to drink water to survive, but we also use it for…

Discharge of industrial pollutants into waterways exceeding Clean Water Act permits in the United States from 2016 to 2017, by select state

This statistic depicts the number of occurrences of industrial pollutants discharge into U.S. waterways that have exceeded the limits permitted by the Clean Water Act from January 2016 to September 2017, with a breakdown by…

EWG’s Tap Water Database

Since 2013, water utilities' testing has found pollutants in Americans' tap water, according to an EWG drinking water quality analysis of more than 31 million state water records.

Coming Storms: Climate Change And The Rising Threat To America’s Coastal Seniors

A new Climate Central sea-level-rise analysis identifies the assisted living and nursing homes at risk in five states. Experts say waiting to evacuate during storms is not the answer.


Australia’s Great Barrier Reef stays off UNESCO danger list, still under ‘serious threat’

By Renju Jose   08/01/23  
A UNESCO heritage committee on Tuesday stopped short of listing Australia's Great Barrier Reef as a site that is "in danger" but warned the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem remained under "serious threat" from pollution…
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Discover How Polluted Lake Superior Really Is

By Crystal   07/31/23  
The Great Lakes hold a third of the world’s surface freshwater. Covering a massive 31,700 square miles, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater body in the world by surface area. It holds 10% of the…
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Water pollution ‘timebomb’ threatens global health

By Lilly Tozer   07/18/23  
Up to 5.5 billion people worldwide could be exposed to polluted water by 2100, a modelling study has found.
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Study addresses the future challenges of global surface water quality

By Universiteit Utrecht Faculteit Geowetenschappen   07/17/23  
As the world's population continues to grow, ensuring access to clean and safe water has become an increasingly important concern, yet little is known about how surface water quality will change in the future.
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It’s Toxic Slime Time on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee

By Dan Egan   07/09/23  
For thousands of years, Lake Okeechobee pumped life into Florida’s swampy interior. Summer rains swelled the shallow inland sea, creating seasonal overflows that sustained the Everglades and its alligators, panthers, spoonbills and snail kites. But…
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USC Researchers Assess Impact of PFAS in Drinking Water Systems in Southern California

By Bokie Muigai   06/28/23  
USC Research and Innovation (R&I) has selected researchers from the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences of Keck School of Medicine and the Viterbi School of Engineering of USC for the President’s Sustainability Initiative…
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Vanishing Corals: NASA Data Helps Track Coral Reefs

By Angela Colbert   06/22/23  
Coral reefs, nicknamed the rainforests of the sea, are colorful, majestic underwater worlds teeming with life. However, their future is in jeopardy due to climate change, water pollution, and other human activities. Let’s explore why…
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A new portal aims to improve water quality through better data

By Stuart Warner   06/02/23  
Access to clean water is one of the greatest challenges the world faces, with a quarter of the world’s population using unsafe drinking water and half of humanity – 3.6 billion people – living without…
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Supreme Court Limits E.P.A.’s Power to Address Water Pollution

By Adam Liptak   05/25/23  
The Supreme Court on Thursday curtailed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to police millions of acres of wetlands, delivering another setback to the agency’s ability to combat pollution. Writing for five justices, Justice Samuel A.…
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Those Seaweed Blobs Headed for Florida? See How Big They Are.

By Elena Shao   04/19/23  
The amount of Sargassum drifting toward North America is a record for the month of March....
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Ten Rivers Facing Pollution, Development, and Climate Change—And Policies That Can Help

By Saima May Sidik   04/18/23  
America’s waterways need help. Threats such as industrial pollution, poorly planned development, and climate change are widespread. In some cases, help could be imminent—but only with support from the public and lawmakers, according to a…
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Animals are migrating to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

By Sarah Zhang   04/17/23  
The oceanic soup of plastic fragments is becoming a new kind of ecosystem....
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Improving detention ponds for effective stormwater management and water quality enhancement under future climate change: a simulation study using the PCSWMM model

By Yasir Abduljaleel and others   04/05/23  
Urban surfaces are often covered by impermeable materials such as concrete and asphalt which intensify urban runoff and pollutant concentration during storm events, and lead to the deterioration of the quality of surrounding water bodies.…
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Americans Cite Safe Drinking Water as Top Environmental Concern

A Gallup poll revealed that Americans rank drinking water quality and water pollution first among their environmental concerns. This makes sense. Safe drinking water is vital to everyone. We all need safe, reliable, sufficient freshwater…
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Scientists uncover startling concentrations of pure DDT along seafloor off L.A. coast

By Rosanna Xia   03/23/23  
First it was the eerie images of barrels leaking on the seafloor not far from Catalina Island. Then the shocking realization that the nation’s largest manufacturer of DDT had once used the ocean as a…
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EPA Proposes ‘Strongest Ever’ Standards for Keeping Coal Plant Pollution Out of U.S. Waterways

By Olivia Rosane   03/09/23  
When wastewater from coal-fired plants is released into wider waterways, it can have serious consequences. Environmental toxins including mercury, arsenic, bromide and chloride can pollute drinking water and aquatic habitats, causing cancer and other ailments…
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More coal plants could shut down under EPA’s new water pollution rule

By Anna Phillips   03/08/23  
The Biden administration moved Wednesday to strengthen a rule limiting millions of gallons of toxic water pollution from coal power plants, a change that could lead some plants to shut down or switch to burning…
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Water – at the center of the climate crisis

Water and climate change are inextricably linked. Climate change affects the world’s water in complex ways. From unpredictable rainfall patterns to shrinking ice sheets, rising sea levels, floods and droughts – most impacts of climate…
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Oil refineries release lots of water pollution near communities of color, data show

By Rebecca Hersher   01/26/23  
Oil refineries release billions of pounds of pollution annually into waterways, and that pollution disproportionately affects people of color, according to a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency regulatory data.
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Rainwater everywhere on Earth unsafe to drink due to ‘forever chemicals’, study finds

By Rosie Frost   08/11/22  
Rainwater almost everywhere on Earth has unsafe levels of ‘forever chemicals’, according to new research. Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large family of human-made chemicals that don’t occur in nature. They are known…
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Salt in water sources becoming worrisome in D.C. region, experts warn

By Antonio Olivo   08/08/22  
The Washington region is growing — a metropolis of nearly 6 million people where area officials are pressing to build another 320,000 homes by the end of this decade. And with that growth comes an…
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The ocean takes center stage at a U.N. conference

By Carlos Costa/AFP/Getty Images   06/28/22  
The ocean covers about 70 percent of Earth’s surface, yet it is often missing from discussions about tackling climate change, plastic pollution, biodiversity loss and other pressing environmental threats facing the planet
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EPA acts to curb air, water pollution in poor communities

By Matthew Daly   01/27/22  
The Environmental Protection Agency announced a series of enforcement actions Wednesday to address air pollution, unsafe drinking water and other problems afflicting minority communities in three Gulf Coast states, following a “Journey to Justice” tour…
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Fracking chemicals dumped in the Allegheny River a decade ago are still showing up in mussels: Study

By Kristina Marusic   09/26/18  
Chemicals from fracking wastewater dumped into Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River before 2011 are still accumulating in the bodies of freshwater mussels downstream, according to a new study.
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