Water is life. It covers around 71% of the Earth’s surface, and it is home to over two million species of animals and plants. And yet, water pollution statistics show that we continue to contaminate bodies of water.
How devastating are the effects of this environmental issue? And what are the causes of water pollution? Read on to discover!
What are the Top 10 Stats and Facts About Water Pollution
- 80% of the world’s wastewater is released back into the environment.
- 80% of trash in oceans comes from land-based sources.
- There are some 500 “dead zones” where no living organism can live.
- Oil spills only account for 12% of oil entering seas every year.
- Around one million seabirds die from ocean litter, statistics reveal.
- Almost 50% of plastic has been manufactured since 2000.
- Europe has a plastic recycling rate of 30% — the highest in the world.
- 90% of all plastic waste in oceans comes from just 10 rivers.
- 100,000 marine mammals die annually as a result of plastic pollution.
- Ingesting over 200 pieces of plastic equals certain death.
Now that you saw some of the horrifying pollution stats, keep scrolling to learn more about what you can do to decrease it.
What Are the Causes of Water Pollution?
Did you know that most of the trash in oceans comes from the land? Here are some more shocking water pollution types and causes.
1. 80% of the world’s wastewater is released back into the environment.
(World Bank, UNESCO)
Water pollution facts and statistics show that as of 2017, high-income countries, such as the US, Canada, Germany, and Japan, treat around 70% of the wastewater they generate.
On the other hand, low-income countries only treat 8% of industrial and municipal wastewater.
2. 80% of trash in oceans comes from land-based sources.
(California Coastal Commission)
Land-based sources include litter, industrial waste, and improper waste management. Only 20% of all waste in oceans, water pollution stats show, is connected to ocean-based sources, such as fishing, cargo, and cruise ships.
3. Agriculture is the most significant source of contamination in US rivers and streams.
Factory farming is the second most significant source of contamination in wetlands and the third in lakes. It is also the leading cause of nitrogen groundwater pollution in China. It currently threatens 38% of European bodies of water.
4. Nutrient pollution is one of the most widespread types of water pollution in the world.
According to water pollution statistics, this issue is caused by high amounts of nutrients (such as phosphorus and nitrogen), usually as runoff from farms.
Nutrient pollution fuels algae bloom, i.e., dense plant growth. This, in turn, damages and can even cause the death of marine life. It also leads to the creation of so-called “dead zones.”
5. There are some 500 “dead zones” where no living organism can live.
These dead zones cover 245,000 km² (about 94,595 square miles) across the planet, or roughly the size of the UK, water pollution facts tell us.
Around 200 of these zones are believed to be found in the US. They are primarily caused by agricultural pollution, untreated wastewater, and airborne nitrogen.
6. One of the most significant “dead zones” forms every year in the Gulf of Mexico.
(National Geographic, EPA)
The Mississippi River annually carries million tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico. It results in the formation of a “dead zone” nearly the size of New Jersey.
The “dead zone” peaked in 2017 when it reached 8,776 square miles, facts about water pollution show. Luckily, in summer 2020, the zone was reduced to 2,116 square miles.
7. Oil spills only account for 12% of oil entering seas every year.
Contrary to popular belief, most oil slicks aren’t caused by oil ships and marine transport. 36% of oil in the water actually comes from drains and rivers in the form of runoff and urban or industrial waste.
8. Radioactive waste is another cause of water pollution.
Accidentally released or improperly handled radioactive waste can cause significant damage to aquatic life and people’s health, as well as financial harm.
What’s more, stats about water pollution suggest that radioactive elements can remain in the water for years.
Recently, traces of radioactive carbon from nuclear tests carried out in the 1950s were found in the muscle tissues of creatures that live in the deepest trenches of the Pacific Ocean.
9. Ocean noise also pollutes the water.
Not all forms of pollution are visible. All the vessels in seas and oceans, such as ships and tankers, emit high-intensity sounds. They injure marine life and disrupt their natural habitat and threaten their survival.
Water Pollution Statistics in the US
The US is rich in lakes, rivers, and oceans. But tap water is contaminated in almost every state, and lakes aren’t safe for swimming.
10. Over 2.5 million acres of ponds, reservoirs, and lakes are unsafe due to nutrient pollution, according to the water pollution statistics from 2021.
(Center for American Progress)
Only 31% of the US waters have been tested, but the numbers are horrifying. The EPA has labeled 800,000 miles of streams and rivers impaired because of nutrient pollution.
11. Harmful contaminants were found in the tap water of 31 states and DC.
Recent research has discovered that water pollution rates are much higher than reported. EWG tests found that 31 states and DC have toxic PFAS chemicals in tap water.
Out of 44 tested places, only two had no detectable PFAS chemicals. In contrast, one had PFAS chemicals below the levels that are dangerous to health.
12. At the height of the Flint water crisis, lead levels in tap water were 25 times over the legal limit.
The cost-cutting move in 2014 to switch to a new drinking water source in Flint, Michigan, resulted in one of the country’s biggest water crises. And an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that killed 12 and made dozens sick.
13. Ohio river pollution facts show that it is the most polluted river in the USA.
(The Earth Project, The Allegheny Front)
The Ohio River, which passes through six states, has about 6,900 toxic water discharges. The Mississippi River and the Tennessee River are ranked second and third as the most polluted rivers in the US.
14. Over half of the trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based sources in North America and Asia.
(World Economic Forum, National Geographic, National Geographic)
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located between Hawaii, California, and Japan. Stats on water pollution show it’s one of the biggest trash sites on the planet and contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.
It’s estimated the plastic debris in the GPGP weighs more than 80,000 tons and covers an area three-times bigger than France. Besides plastic, it also contains abandoned fishing gear (46%) and debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami (20%).
Plastic Pollution Statistics
Plastic is one of the most significant pollutants. Billions of pounds of plastic waste end up in oceans and endanger countless animal species.
But how does plastic get into the waterways? There are plenty of ocean pollution statistics that reveal the answers.
15. Almost 50% of plastic has been manufactured since 2000.
(National Geographic, DW)
50% of plastic is produced in Asia, with China accounting for 29% of all plastic produced globally. People have so far manufactured over 8.3 billion tons of plastic, 6.3 billion of which is waste.
So, how much plastic is in the ocean?
16. 18 billion pounds of plastic waste go into the world’s oceans every year.
This astonishing amount of waste comes from coastal regions, as water pollution facts from 2019 show. It equals five grocery bags of plastic trash per foot of coastline around the world.
17. Europe has a plastic recycling rate of 30% — the highest in the world.
China may be the largest plastic manufacturer, but it recycles a quarter of the plastic it produces. The USA, on the other hand, recycles only 9% of plastic waste. Globally, less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled.
18. In regards to the plastic pollution in the ocean, facts reveal that the majority of the plastic debris sinks to the bottom.
(Condor Ferries, National Geographic)
According to studies on the pollution in the ocean, 70% of all plastic debris sink to the ocean floor.
15% floats on the surface, and another 15% washes up onshore.
19. In some of the most polluted areas of oceans, there is six times more plastic than plankton.
(Center for Biological Diversity, SEE Turtles)
Actually, for every 2.2 pounds of plankton, there are 13.2 pounds of plastic. An even more disturbing water pollution statistic shows that if we continue dumping plastic in the ocean, the amount of waste will outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.
20. 90% of all plastic waste in oceans comes from just 10 rivers.
Eight of the 10 most polluted rivers in the world that are responsible for ocean pollution are in Asia, and two are found in Africa.
The Yangtze River — which carries 1,469,481 tons of plastic waste — is one of the most significant contributors to oceans’ pollution. Yangtze River pollution facts reveal that 11 provinces located on the river are water-stressed due to industrial waste.
Plastic Pollution and Animals Statistics
Polluted waters are home to hundreds of thousands of marine animal species. Every day, they ingest plastic particles that endanger their lives.
21. 100,000 marine mammals die annually as a result of plastic pollution.
(WWF, Center for Biological Diversity)
Hundreds of marine species eat plastic. Research shows that fish in the North Pacific ingest between 12,000 and 14,000 tons of plastic a year. Not only does this cause injuries and pain, but it most often results in death.
22. Ingesting over 200 pieces of plastic equals certain death.
Marine pollution facts show a 22% chance of death if a sea turtle eats just one piece of plastic while consuming 14 pieces increases the chances of mortality by 50%.
Younger turtles are more likely to eat plastic — 23% of juveniles and 54% of post-hatchling turtles have ingested plastic compared to 16% of adult turtles.
In fact, 90% of juvenile green sea turtles on the Brazilian coast have eaten plastic.
23. Around one million seabirds die from ocean litter, statistics reveal.
(Center for Biological Diversity)
Around 60% of all seabird species have eaten plastic — a number said to increase to 99% by 2050. More and more often, dead birds are found with stomachs full of plastic.
Sadly, this proves that ocean littering has increased rapidly in the last 40 years.
24. Plastic pollution also damages coral reefs.
Home to 25% of all marine life on the planet, coral reefs are mostly damaged by coral “bleaching.” However, plastic pollution also plays a significant part, as plastic in the ocean statistics show.
A study of 338 corals exposed to plastic waste and fishing gear found that 69% were physically damaged, and 62% of them had fresh tissue loss.
Plastic also puts the coral at risk of diseases. For instance, coral that comes into contact with plastic is 17% more likely to develop “white syndrome.” This deadly disease has killed 95% of Acropora coral in the Florida Reef.
Other Causes of Water Pollution and Their Effect on Marine Life
Sadly, there are many more sources of water pollution, including bycatch, ghost fishing, agricultural, and noise pollution.
25. One in three marine mammal species become entangled in marine debris, statistics on marine pollution reveal.
(Condor Ferries, Phys.org)
From 2009 to 2019, the Oceana organization found almost 1,792 animals from 40 different species entangled in marine debris or swallowing plastic.
Sadly, 861 of them were sea turtles, and 931 were marine mammals. And that’s just in the US.
26. Fishing gear in the oceans accounts for 10% of all marine debris.
Ocean water pollution facts show there are between 500,000 and one million tons of fishing gear abandoned in oceans every year. They trap turtles, fish, and other marine life.
Fishing lines, nets, and ropes make up almost half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, facts reveal.
27. Ghost fishing is one of the main reasons for the decline of the Hawaiian monk seal population.
(National Wildlife Federation)
Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species. There are only 1,100 living in the wild, while the Hawaiian Island’s population is declining at a rate of 4% a year.
According to statistics on water pollution and marine mammals, every year, four to 78% of Hawaiian monk seals get entangled in ghost gear in the north-west Hawaiian Islands alone.
28. 55 species of marine animals are affected by ocean noise pollution.
(Marine Insight, OceanCare)
The effects of ocean noise pollution on marine animals can be disastrous.
In addition to forcing animals to move from their natural habitat, noise pollution also leads to vascular damage to the brain and other organs, as well as strandings of whales and dolphins, which are more frequent following naval sonar maneuvers.
29. Statistics about water pollution for the Great Barrier Reef reveal that agricultural pollution is one of its main threats.
Nitrogen runoff from farms results in algal bloom that feeds juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish (also called coral-killers), causing them to multiply. The increasing population of starfish is responsible for more than 40% of coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef.
What Are the Effects of Water Pollution on People?
Unsurprisingly, water pollution doesn’t only affect marine life, but people, as well. Billions of people drink contaminated water and die from water pollution caused diseases.
How many people don’t have clean water? Keep reading to discover!
30. Estimates show that around 47% of people in the world will be living in water-stressed areas by 2050.
That’s almost half of the global population struggling to find safe drinking water, water pollution facts from 2020 show.
31. 2 billion people around the planet drink water that is contaminated with feces.
Drinking water contaminated with fecal matter isn’t just disgusting. It also results in diseases such as cholera, dysentery, polio, and typhoid.
Every year, millions of people die from water-related diseases, the majority of whom are children.
32. Around 829.000 people die from diarrhea annually.
This is a shockingly large number for a disease that is easily preventable. Statistics of water pollution reveal that the deaths of 297,000 children under the age of five could have been prevented if proper sanitation conditions had been established.
However, in areas where people don’t have access to safe drinking water and sanitation, hygiene doesn’t top the list of priorities.
33. High levels of nitrates in the water are the most common cause of “blue baby syndrome.”
(Medical News Today)
Other causes account for this condition, too. However, unsafe tap water is one of the most common, as water pollution statistics reveal. The blue baby syndrome could be a life-threatening condition and cause long-term health issues if left untreated.
34. People who frequently eat fish from the Columbia River are 50 times more at risk of getting cancer.
High levels of cancer-causing chemicals are found in certain species of fish in the Columbia River. This phenomenon is caused by wastewater treatment plants that release over 100 toxic materials into the river, Columbia River pollution facts reveal.
35. Water pollution has financial implications, as well.
(NRDC, Scientific American)
For instance, the cleanup of 56 million gallons of radioactive water at the Hanford nuclear weapons production site will last until 2060 and cost the country over $100 billion.
Japan puts cleanup costs for the Fukushima disaster between $470 and $660 billion.
There are around one million tons of radioactive water kept in limited storage at the moment. Their discharge could cause further contamination of groundwater.
36. Unsurprisingly, economic growth is linked to water pollution.
According to a report on water pollution statistics in 2019, heavily polluted rivers lead to a decline of 0.82% points in the GDP of countries located in downstream regions.
In other words, water pollution reduces GDP growth by a third for countries in these regions.
Seeing as how water and pollution flow downstream, it’s expected that the adverse effects will be concentrated further down the river from the source of pollution.
37. How many animals are killed by water pollution every year?
It is estimated that 100 million animals die each year due to water pollution. Moreover, 1,000 species of marine animals are affected by ocean contamination.
However, these are rough estimates as it is nearly impossible to calculate the exact number of animals killed due to water pollution.
Whether it’s because of plastic or other waste, noise pollution, or chemical contamination, it’s a fact that water pollution negatively impacts millions of animals across the world.
38. What causes the most pollution?
There are two leading causes of water pollution: point and nonpoint. The former refers to pollutants that belong to just one source, such as factory emissions. In contrast, the latter refers to contaminants coming from many sources.
Some of the leading water pollution causes include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Industrial waste
- Burning of fossil fuels
- Wastewater and sewage
- Marine dumping
- Oil leakage
- Mining activities
- Use of chemicals and pesticides
- Urban development
- Global warming
39. What are some of the harmful effects of water pollution?
Drinking unsafe water puts people at risk of many diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, salmonella, dysentery, typhoid, and parasitic infections. In addition to human health, contaminated water damages the environment and all plants and animals’ lives.
For instance, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affected more than 82,000 birds and 25,900 marine animals, and an unknown number of fish and other invertebrates.
40. How can we stop pollution?
There’s no magical solution that will prevent the contamination of bodies of water around the globe. However, we can each do our part and help reduce water pollution levels.
Here are a few simple water pollution solutions — anyone can do these things to contribute to cleaner water:
- Conserve water
- Use less plastic
- Do not dispose of medicine, chemicals, or oil down the drain
- Avoid using pesticides
- Use eco-friendly detergents
- Do not litter
- Plant some trees
41. Where is the source of most water pollution?
Citarum River in Indonesia is believed to be the most heavily polluted river in the world, with over 500 factories dumping waste in the water.
Others on the list of polluted rivers include the Riachuelo River in Argentina and Lake Karachay in Russia, the biggest radioactive body of water in the world.
Chinese Lake Tai and Yamuna River in India also receive billions of liters of contaminated water. This resulted in the Yamuna River being declared ecologically dead and Lake Tai turning completely green.
When it comes to water pollution in India, facts show that the sacred river Ganges is also one of the most polluted in the world.
It supplies 40% of the Indian population with water, even though around 89 million liters of sewage water are released into the river daily. This has led many to believe it’s possibly the most polluted river in the world.
Other causes of water pollution in the river include pesticide and fertilizer runoff from farms, plastic waste, and many dead animals and human bodies dumped in the river.
42. Which country causes the most pollution?
China is the most polluted country in the world, accounting for 30% of global pollution.
The US is second with 15%, followed by India (7%) and Russia (5%).
Water pollution is one of the most severe environmental issues. Contaminated water kills more people every year than war and violence combined.
These water pollution statistics show us the scary reality. If we don’t start cleaning up the mess we made, we face a future of low-quality water, outbreaks of water-related diseases, and the extinction of marine life.
- California Coastal Commission
- Center for American Progress
- Center for Biological Diversity
- Columbia Riverkeeper
- Condor Ferries
- E&E News
- Marine Insight
- Medical News Today
- National Geographic
- National Geographic
- National Geographic
- National Geographic
- National Geographic
- National Wildlife Federation
- Scientific American
- SEE Turtles
- The Allegheny Front
- The Earth Project
- World Bank
- World Bank
- World Economic Forum