Mississippi River Pollution, Causes, Effects & Solutions

The Mississippi River is a dangerous place to be, despite its breathtaking grandeur. It has a reputation for being dangerous for swimmers to survive and is the fourth-largest river in the world in terms of drainage area. And each year, people are injured or lose their lives in her waters.

According to a new analysis, the Mississippi River will be among the top ten most threatened waterways in the US by 2022 due to threats of Mississippi River pollution from farms and cities, habitat loss, and greater floods brought on by climate change.

Before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, one of the greatest rivers in the world, borders Iowa and nine other states. According to American Rivers’ Most Endangered Rivers list, it is the sixth most endangered river this year.

According to Olivia Dorothy, restoration director for American Rivers, a significant environmental advocacy nonprofit in Washington, D.C., “over and over, we see that the Mississippi continues to degrade,” with increased pollution and lost floodplains that clean water, slow flooding, and provide habitat for wildlife.

History of the Mississippi River Pollution

The Industrial Revolution began in Minnesota in the late 1800s with the logging sector. Sawdust and other factory trash were eventually dumped by the lumbering sector.

Many of the sand bars were found to be filled with sawdust rather than sand, according to research conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1881. In the 1800s, this was one of the contaminants in the Mississippi River.

Other contaminants were being poured into the river, including garbage and chemicals. By the 1930s, the river was receiving at least 144 million gallons of sewage and trash every single day.

Disease outbreaks like the typhoid outbreak in the late 1800s and early 1900s were brought on by the river’s pollution. 95 people each year died and 950 people were infected on average per year.

When Minneapolis eventually employed chlorine to disinfect and clean drinking water that was coming from the river, the number of infected fell. To ensure that the public has access to safe drinking water, the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant was constructed in 1938.

The fauna in the Mississippi River has declined as a result of the river’s dirty water. However, a lot of progress has been done to clean up the river and boost the wildlife population thanks to the Federal Clean Water Act.

Stormwater drainage systems today allow chemicals and waste from urban areas to enter rivers, and eventually, agricultural chemicals also do. The quality of the river’s water could yet be improved, despite the fact that many modifications have already been undertaken.

Causes of Mississippi River Pollution

One of the most polluted waterways in the country is the Mississippi River. There are a number of causes for this contamination, including

  • Agricultural runoff
  • Water Treatment Facilities
  • Industrial facilities
  • Dumping

1. Agricultural Runoff

Agricultural runoff is the main cause of many of the contaminants in the Mississippi River. Any contaminants produced as a result of farming and agricultural processes are included in agricultural runoff.

Overfertilization leads to one of the most typical types of agricultural runoff. Certain organic compounds, like nitrogen, are included in fertilizer. When individuals fertilize their lawns or crops excessively, the rain can wash the extra fertilizer into the Mississippi River and other surrounding water sources.

This degrades the water’s purity and changes its chemical. Additionally, it can lower the amount of oxygen in the water and cause hazardous algae blooms, both of which can be quite dangerous for local species.

The quality of water can also be impacted by agricultural runoff in other ways, though.

Animal manure is a further cause of agricultural runoff. Because manure contains a lot of organic compounds, it is comparable to fertilizer. Animal manure needs to be stored at large farms to prevent it from harming the environment.

However, there is too much waste in some extremely large farms to handle. There are consequently sporadic leaks that may have an effect on the water’s quality.

2. Water Treatment Facilities

Another big source of contamination for the Mississippi River is sewage treatment facilities. Before discharging human sewage into the river, these facilities treat it. Still, some untreated sewage finds its way into the lake.

3. Industrial Facilities

Another substantial source of contamination for this river comes from industrial operations. Heavy metals and hazardous compounds are among the contaminants released by these facilities. Even though you might not notice the effects of these substances right away, exposure to harmful chemicals can cause bothersome symptoms or chronic sickness.

4. Dumping

Along with daily trash, dumping has become a serious issue on the Mississippi River. Sediment buildup can occur as a result of trash getting into rivers and obstructing their flow. Additionally, it may leak dangerous substances into the water.

Animals might consume some debris, such as plastic rings, or become tangled in it. In some regions, all of these Mississippi River contaminants may make the river hazardous not only for people but also for the plants and animals that live there.

Effects of Mississippi River Pollution on Living Things

The effects on the water quality along the whole of Mississippi have been significant.

Nutrient pollution affects around 40% of the streams in the Mississippi watershed, making swimming and fishing dangerous. Beach closures during the summer are common in places like Iowa and Minnesota due to algal blooms.

The Gulf of Mexico eventually receives all of the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, which causes an abrupt increase in the number of algae there.

The decomposition of algae consumes oxygen, depriving Gulf waters of sufficient quantities of dissolved oxygen and resulting in a “dead zone” where aquatic life is forced to either relocate or perish.

The ‘dead zone’ of low oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico in 2015 covered an area around the size of Connecticut or 6,500 square miles.

Both environmental and financial harm is done. The Gulf’s seafood industry suffers significant losses as a result of the low oxygen levels’ destruction of marine life and disruption of delicate ecosystems.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the dead zone costs the seafood and tourism sectors of the United States $82 million annually.

Probable Solutions to Restore the Mississippi River

Our strongest options for preventing land loss, safeguarding our cities and towns, and assuring a sustainable future for future generations include strong, large-scale restoration projects, coastal protection, and community resiliency initiatives.

  • The Mississippi River Delta needs to be restored in order to be productive and healthy. Reconnecting the river with its delta through land-building sediment diversions is one of them.
  • Strategically using dredged sediments to create and preserve wetlands and barrier islands.
  • Better oversight of the Mississippi River
  • Implementing community resiliency strategies, such as home elevation.

The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy (MLODS), which was established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a strategy to increase resilience for towns and industries along the coast, served as the foundation for the development of these principles.

The plan organizes measures for community resilience, including evacuation, housing elevation, and more, together with traditional flood protection and coastal restoration. Together, these technologies provide cities, communities, and businesses with various tiers of storm surge defense.

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation devised the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy.

Coastal Louisiana is home to numerous restoration initiatives, but many more are required as part of a holistic plan for the delta’s future. Find out more about the various types of restoration projects and the immediate top-priority restoration projects for Restoring the Mississippi River Delta.

What are the major pollutants in the Mississippi River?

A portion of the Mississippi River inside the park corridor has water quality limits for nutrients, bacteria, silt, mercury, and PCBs that are exceeded. Sadly, these “improvements” may render the water unusable for swimming, fishing, or other activities.

Is it safe to swim in the Mississippi River?

The Mississippi River has severe levels of pollution, thus swimming there is generally not advised. The Mississippi River might seriously hurt a swimmer, kayaker, skier, and others even with a life jacket on.


From our article, we have seen that there are actions taken to restore the Mississippi River to the height it once was but it’s not going to be that easy. “it is easier to destroy the to build or rebuild”.

So, what lesson can we draw from this?

We should not neglect our largest carbon sink-the water bodies. Let’s take action to drastically reduce the pollution of these water bodies and strive to restore our polluted waters.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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