7 Most Polluted Rivers In The US

For decades now the high rise of population in the US has been affecting their rivers for several decades, due to inappropriate and careless disposal of different kinds of waste, causing these rivers to get polluted.

Rivers are used for many purposes such as drinking, irrigation in agriculture, swimming, sailing, and transportation, via hydroelectric dams to produce light. These various uses can cause big damage to the health of a river and its surrounding ecosystems.

According to the 2013 EPA report, it was disclosed that 55 percent of rivers in the US were in a very bad state that is getting worse.

The most polluted rivers in the US are an indication that the country has to arise to prevent this problem from becoming very terrible. In this article, we are looking at the most polluted river in the US. We will discuss seven (7) of them here.

7 Most polluted Rivers In The US

Below are the most polluted river in the US

  • Harpeth River
  • Holston River
  • Ohio River
  • Mississippi River
  • Tennessee River 
  • New River
  • Cuyahoga River

Let’s further look into them one after the other

1. Harpeth River

This river is among the most polluted rivers in the US, it is a major river located in north-central Middle Tennessee United States. It is about115 miles (185 km) long, it is also one of the major branches of the Cumberland River.

The origin of the name of the river is controversial. In 1797 It was said that the river was named for America’s first known serial killers, the Harpe brothers, called “Big Harpe” and “Little Harpe” who were in the area.

Harpeth River. Most polluted rivers in the US
Harpeth River (Source: Alamy)

Harpeth serves as the source that supplies drinking water and is the major site for sewage disposal in the area. The disposal of sewage waste in this river has caused a lot of harm to the habitats, the fishes that are deformed are found in the Harpeth River.

It has also increased the rapid growth in the population of algae in the river which stimulates a toxic environment in the habitats ( water life). That is why the river is among the most polluted rivers in the US. Different species of fish habitat dwell in the Harpeth River.

2. Holston River

This is one of the most polluted rivers in the US, it flows through Kingsport, Tennessee to Knoxville, Tennessee with its three main forks which are North Fork, Middle Ford, and South Ford and it is just about 136-mile (219 km).

The Holston River was named by British colonists after pioneer Stephen Holstein, a European-American colonist who built a cabin in 1746 on the upper reaches of the river. Likewise, Holston Mountain was named after the Holston River.

Holston River. Most rivers in the US
Holston River (Source: Wikipedia)

It generates electric light for the state through hydroelectric dams and coal-fired steam plants. 15 species of mussels and 15 species of fish habitats are found in the river.

The Holston Army Ammunition Plant located in the area is responsible for pollution in the river. They contaminate the river with explosive chemicals that are very toxic and deadly to animals and human health. this made it to be one of the most polluted rivers in the US

3. Ohio River

The Ohio River is eminent as one of the most polluted rivers in the US. This river is the 6th oldest river on the North American continent. Ohio River is a long river in the US that is approximately 981-mile (1,579 km).

It is situated on the borderline of the Midwestern and Southern United States and flows southwest from western Pennsylvania to the mouth of the river on Mississippi River which is at the southern tip of Illinois.

Ohio River. Most polluted rivers in the Us
Ohio River (Source: WFPL)

It is the third-largest river by volume in the United States, and also the largest branch by volume of the north-south that flows through the Mississippi River that splits the eastern from the western United States.

About 366 fish species dwell in The Ohio River and 50 are involved in commercial fishing.

It is a dwelling place for 15 species of mussels, 15 species of shrimp, four types of salamander, seven types of turtles, and six types of frogs. Industrial waste and chemicals from steel companies are the major sources of pollution. This made it becomes one of the most polluted rivers in the US.

4. Mississippi River

This river made the list of the most polluted rivers in the US. Is the second-largest river and the Chief river of the united state. Revolt in northern Minnesota flows about 2,340 miles (3,770 km) southward into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi River by discharge ranks as the thirteenth-largest river in the world. the river passes through the following states Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Mississippi River. Most polluted rivers in the US
Mississippi River (Source: American Rivers)

A study published by the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee states that close to 15 million people depend on the Mississippi River or its tributaries. in the upper half of the basin (Cairo, IL to Minneapolis, MN)

Another study by the Upper Mississippi Basin River Committee has it that a figure of 18 million people use the Mississippi River Watershed for water supply while The Environmental Protection Agency simply says that more than 50 cities depend on the Mississippi for daily water supply.

More than 45 species of fish, 22 types of mussels, and 31 kinds of shrimp dwell in the river.

Sewage, city waste and agricultural wastes like arsenic are the cause of pollution in the river. Also, fertilizers contaminate the water in the Mississippi River which is the primary source of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone

The brown colour of the Mississippi River is a result of sediment which is why the marine habitats are few. This made one of the most polluted rivers in the US

5. Tennessee River 

The Tennessee River is located in Tennessee Valley southeastern the United States. it is about  652 miles (1,049 km) long and is the largest affluent on the Ohio River. The river is commonly known as the Cherokee River, it originated as the people of Cherokee had native land beside the bank of the river.

Its present name originated from the Cherokee town, Tanasi which is located on the Tennessee side of the Appalachian Mountain

The Tennessee River host about 102 species of mussel. Indigenous peoples of the Americas eat mussels. crushed mussels are mixed into the clay to make Pottery robust.


Tennessee River. Most polluted rivers in the US
Tennessee River (Source: Tennessee Riverline)

The mussel population is decreasing because of pollution like industrial chemicals, raw sewage, micro-plastics, dam construction, and agricultural runoff like fertilizers.

Including household wastes like bottles, plastics, and tissue papers are already major pollutants that are making this river to be one of the muddy, most polluted rivers in the US and a notable source of water pollution

6. New River

New River is one most polluted rivers in the US, it is approximately 360 miles (580 km) long and flows through the U.S. states of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia before merging with the Gauley River to form the Kanawha River at the town of Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. The New River is one of the five oldest rivers in the world. 

The New River host different kinds of animal in and around the surrounding forest, the number of species that live in the New River is approximately 65 species of mammals such as beaver, mink, muskrat, and river otter.

There are almost 40 species of reptiles like the eastern fence lizard, five-lined skinks, copperhead snake, black rat snake, etc. 

New River. Most polluted rivers in the US
New River (Source: Paddler’s Guide)

New River has lowlands and terrains, this river is common for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. This river now is one of the most polluted rivers in the US.

The primary contributor to pollution here is the overpopulation around the area, which led to municipal and industrial wastes discharged into the river, which causes a disgusting odour.

Chemicals like arsenic and mercury contribute to polluting the river. Arsenic causes cancer in humans, while mercury is very dreadful.

The technicians who work on this river usually take precautions by putting on their protective equipment to avoid them coming in contact with this pollutant.

7. Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River is one of the famous and most polluted rivers in the US, situated in Northeast Ohio, that joins the City of Cleveland and feeds into Lake Erie. This river was industrially polluted awkwardly and caught fire according to a report almost 13 times on June 22, 1969.

This incident propels the  American environmental movement.  to be effective in extensive cleaned up of the river it inspires the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 to date through the assistance of Cleveland’s city government and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA).

Cuyahoga River. Most polluted rivers in the US
Cuyahoga River (Source: US News)

In 2019, the American Rivers conservation association named the Cuyahoga “River of the Year” in honour of “50 years of environmental resurgence.

Major Causes Of River Pollution in the US

  • Radioactive Waste
  • Agriculture
  • Sewage and Wastewater

1. Radioactive Waste:

This is one of the major causes of river pollution in the US. This waste is from industries’ equipment that produces nuclear energy, the element used in the creation of nuclear energy is a toxic chemical. This waste ends up in the river.

It contributes to increasing the number of most polluted rivers in the US which makes the rivers very dangerous to the environment. This waste should be disposed of properly to prevent River Pollution.

2. Agriculture

Most times farmers use herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals to prevent their crops from being harmed by bacteria or insects. Once these chemicals get into the ground they cause great damage to humans’ health plants and animals.

The chemicals are mixed with rainwater and then flow into rivers, which end up polluting the river. it also contributes to increasing the most polluted rivers in the US

3. Sewage and Wastewater

Sewage waste from households and industries is released. Sewage waste contains toxic chemicals, which pollute the river and cause health issues to humans and animals. Wastewater also pollutes the rivers.


We have successfully talked about the seven (7) most polluted rivers in the US in this article. The rate at which the most polluted rivers in the US are increasing is minding blowing.

This is happening due to the large use of chemicals and toxic substances by companies or industries and if nothing is being done, it is most likely to go out of hand.

This is a wake-up call to the US government to take immediate action in other to protect the lives of humans and animals, including plants, and the environment from being destroyed.

Let steps be taken to clean up the rivers and ban the production of more toxins.

The companies in the US should cooperate with the environment to end the pollution of rivers because too much pollution in the river is deleterious to the ecosystem. It destroys marine habitats and human health.

The increase in the most polluted rivers in the US will also affect the economy of the country. Facilities that will be used to treat this river should be provided.

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