Pollution is a problem on a global scale. From air pollution in China to soil contamination in the United States' Niagara Falls area, and much in between, there is no doubt about it, various types of pollution have become a huge issue in modern society over the past few decades.

Unfortunately, water pollution is one type of that has evolved into a serious issue. For instance, many of the rivers across the globe are severely polluted by various kinds of contaminants. In various corners of the world, several major waterways are sullied in one way or another. This has a serious impact on the food supply chain and deprives many locals who live near these rivers of having a fresh water supply.

Where are the world's most polluted rivers? Some of the biggest offenders around the world include:

Ganga (Ganges) River, India

The pollution in the Ganga impacts the water supply for over 400 million people. Types of pollutants dumped into the water include billions of gallons of raw sewage daily, industrial waste and even dead bodies, notes Eric Zerkel, reporting for Weather.com. [1] 

Ganges River
Credit: Katjusa Cisar via Flickr CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/katjusac/5327540335/

Despite efforts over several decades now to clean up this considered to be sacred river, to date, these have been mostly unsuccessful. In 2016 a study released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) suggested the 1,569-miles long Ganga is more polluted than ever. The southern areas of the river have the most pollution, but studies are showing the contamination is increasingly becoming present in the northern part of the river too.

Rivers in China

China has been widely reported to have many pollution problems in recent years due to rapid industrial growth. Some of its problems even included thousands of dead pigs being found in the Huangpu River in early 2013. Additionally, the Jian River is also reported to be seriously contaminated. In 2011 the river turned blood red and lasted for a few days. It was discovered red dye had been dumped into the local storm water pipes that connected to the river. This is not an isolated incident. Over several years reports have surfaced indicating industry is a huge offender of water pollution in China. Not to mention the country's underground water supply has serious contamination issues.

The Guardian reported in June 2016 that four years earlier a senior official from the ministry of water resources admitted to serious water pollution. The official said 40 percent of waterways were "seriously" polluted and 20 percent "absolutely toxic". [11] Other news reports suggest this number is higher, and some reports suggest that fish cannot survive in up to 75 percent of China's rivers. Efforts are being made to identify and clean up some of these waterways, however, there is much work to be done and, to date, the official efforts are reportedly not going as well as hoped.

Shanghai, China, March 2006
Credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly via Flickr CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/beggs/126881713/

Image caption: a small army of guys down in the mud flats on the Pudong side of the river collecting the mass of discarded plastic bags" 

Rivers in Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta is a region that has many polluted rivers. Much of the pollution is attributed to household garbage and untreated sewage. A few years back official reports indicated 71 percent of the area rivers were so severely contaminated there is no clean water. The Citarum River is known to be pretty contaminated with human waste and industrial chemicals and is reportedly one of the worst contaminated in the world.

Pasig River, Philippines

The Pasig River was unfortunately polluted to the point it was declared biologically dead. Back in 1989, an initiative was started with the goal to have the river cleaned up by 2014, but it is nowhere close. The untreated sewage, household waste and industrial contaminants had completely killed this river. Even after decades of work, in 2013, the river was said to still be unable to sustain any form of life.

Manila Bay
Credit: Shubert Ciencia via Flickr CC by 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigberto/2620071700/

Photo caption: "Manila Bay is acknowledged to one of the finest natural harbors in the world and the best in the Eastern Asia region. It lays claim as the place where the most beautiful sunset in the world can be viewed. Manila Bay is also the catchment area of the Pasig and Pampanga River Basins whose organic pollution load from the ever growing urban centers have also earned it the distinction of being the biggest sewer in the world."

Fast-forward to 2016 and new approaches are being taken in an effort to clean up the Pasig. The focus is now on a smaller scale, cleaning up the river's tributaries, one at a time (there are close to 50 of them).  Educating local residents about trash is a big piece of the clean-up project, notes a Citiscope piece published in June 2016, pointing out how some locals have said it's hard to change habits. Additionally, as a part of the clean-up initiative, a large effort is also being made to develop and install ways to deal with sewage waste. [4] According to The Manila Times, 17 of the tributaries have now been cleaned up (August 2016).  [5]

Mississippi River, United States

In the United States, the mighty Mississippi River is ranked as one of the most polluted. Several states reportedly contribute to the mess that flows in this body of water. This waterway, which stretches over 2,300 miles, contains toxic chemicals and sewage run-off. According to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS):

"Stretches of the Mississippi River within the park corridor exceed water quality standards for mercury, bacteria, sediment, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), and nutrients. Unfortunately, these "impairments" can make the water unsuitable for fishing, swimming, and drinking." [8]

Then there are the oil spills to consider. At the point where the river reaches the Gulf of Mexico, the pollution, mixed with saltwater, has created conditions in the gulf where life cannot sustain. Even the once pristine upper Mississippi watershed is facing trouble due to contamination from farm chemicals, depleted groundwater and urban runoff. According to a 2016 Star Tribune Piece, this area of the mighty Mississippi has lost "about 400 square miles of forests, marshes and grasslands — natural features that cleanse and refresh its water — to agriculture and urban development." It's not nearly as bad as some others, but the U.S. largest River is endangered.

Mississippi River (St. Louis, Missouri)
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

You wouldn't know by looking at the beautiful Mississippi that it has some big problems related to pollution. Photo taken from a boat in April, 2005 near St. Louis, Missouri.

Other Rivers

These are only a handful of the polluted rivers across the globe. Other rivers, such as the Tietê River in Brazil, the Yangtze River in China and the Yamuna River in India have also suffered terrible fates.

The man-made causes of pollution sadly continue for these waterways and others, affecting the people both in the immediate vicinity and even those further away. When the pollutants get into the rivers, both drinking and agricultural irrigation waters are ruined. Some places are so bad, locals can't even wash clothing in these waters.

Much awareness of the problems caused by pollution have been made over the last few decades, however, there is much more work to be done. Despite how environmentally-conscious society becomes, many of the earlier damages done are difficult to reverse. Couple this with the fact new forms of pollution emerge and water pollution has emerged as a serious issue. The damage done to these rivers and more has been devastating.