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37 Startling Facts and Statistics About Water Pollution In 2024

In a 2023 survey, 55% of Americans were greatly concerned about pollution in drinking water, while 50% worried about pollution in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.

Over 3 billion people globally are at risk of disease due to unknown water quality in rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

A study suggests that by 2100, as many as 5.5 billion people worldwide could be exposed to polluted water.

From the microscopic threats lurking in bottled water to the far-reaching consequences of industrial contamination, we explore in this article 22 startling facts about water pollution in 2024.

Each revelation paints a vivid picture of the challenges facing our planet’s most precious resource.

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Cause of Water Pollution

  • In 2021, around 196 million pounds of TRI-listed production-related chemicals were released into U.S. water bodies. The food manufacturing sector contributed 30% of this, while petroleum products manufacturing contributed 16%.

  • The agricultural sector consumes approximately 70 percent of the earth’s surface water supplies globally. Additionally, agriculture is the leading cause of water degradation worldwide.

  • Over 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is discharged back into the environment untreated or unreused, with some least-developed countries exceeding 95 percent.

  • At sea, tanker spills account for about 10 percent of the oil in waters around the world.

  • Since 1967, there have been significant oil spills globally, with the largest occurring during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraqi forces released an estimated 380 to 520 million gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf to hinder U.S. and coalition forces.

Impacts of Water Pollution on Human Health

  • Water pollution kills, it caused 1.8 million deaths in 2015.
  • Every year, unsafe water sickens about 1 billion people.

  • 80% of diseases and 50% of child deaths worldwide are related to poor water quality

PFAS

  • Nearly all Americans, including newborns, carry PFAS in their bloodstream due to the chemicals’ ubiquity. 
  • A peer-reviewed 2020 study suggests that as many as 200 million Americans are exposed to PFAS in their tap water.

  • A study of over 45,000 water samples worldwide found that 31% of groundwater samples, not near obvious contamination sources, had PFAS levels harmful to human health according to the EPA.

Microplastics

  • A 2024 American study shows nearly 240,000 micro and nanoplastic fragments per liter in various bottled water brands.

  • 90% of these particles are nanoplastics, less than 1 micrometer in size, 10 to 100 times finer than a hair. Their tiny size allows them to penetrate the bloodstream and various organs, potentially disrupting their function. However, the full extent of their toxicity is still unknown.

Lead

  • One in five New Yorkers, approximately 21% of the city’s residents, may be drinking lead-contaminated water due to lead or possible lead service lines in roughly 900,000 households. Lead can leach into the water from these pipes, posing serious health risks, particularly to children. 

Water Pollution & Global Environmental Concerns

  • A recent study estimated that 57 million illnesses annually stem from swimming in polluted U.S. oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds. Figures could be significantly higher as people often don’t report swim-related illnesses to health authorities.

  • A recent report from Environment America indicates that 55% of the 3,192 regularly tested beaches nationwide in 2022 showed potentially unsafe bacteria levels on at least one testing day.

  • In March 2024, a fertilizer spill in Iowa devastated aquatic life across a 60-mile stretch of rivers in two states, resulting in an estimated 789,000 fish deaths

  • Japan is set to release over a million tons of treated radioactive water stored at the disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean this March 2024.

  • Hundreds of South Korean activists protested in central Seoul against Japan’s plan to release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

  • In 2023 Dubai desalinated approximately 163.6 billion gallons of water, with each gallon of desalinated water producing an average of a gallon and a half of brine released into the ocean. 

  • About 70% of the gulf’s coral reefs have vanished, endangering 21 species of coral-dependent fish with extinction. This has led to a yearly regional loss of $94 billion for tourism, aquaculture, and fisheries. (Source: Study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2021)

  • Land reclamation, along with brine and industrial waste, contributes to excessive growth of microscopic algae in the Persian Gulf, resulting in algae blooms or red tides.

  • The emirate has explored alternative water sources, including cloud seeding and atmospheric harvesting by hotels in Dubai.
  • Canada is home to ten of the world’s most polluted rivers, including the Petitcodiac River, Okanagan River, and Eastmain River.
  • Contaminated groundwater affects roughly 85% of Bangladesh’s total land area.
  • Roughly 70% of surface water in India is deemed unsuitable for consumption.
  • Health costs due to water pollution alone in India are estimated at approximately $6.7-8.7 billion per year.

Water Treatment and Filtration

  • The American National Standards Institute and NSF have set standards for water filters. Standard 42 addresses aesthetics like taste and odor, while Standard 53 focuses on safety, ensuring contaminants are below accepted limits.

  • A 2020 study revealed that pitcher and refrigerator filters with activated carbon lowered PFAS levels by around 50%. (Source: Dr. Knappe et al., 2020)

  • According to a report by the Environmental Working Group, pitcher filters showed significant variability in PFAS removal. Some brands eliminated 100% of the chemicals, while the poorest performer reduced PFAS levels by 22%. (Source: Environmental Working Group)

  • Dr. Nguyen’s research uncovered that stagnant water in faucet or under-sink filters can accumulate more contaminants over time. Leaving water to sit in these filters, especially overnight, may increase levels of lead and bacteria. Flushing the filter for at least 10 seconds before use is advised, along with regular filter replacements. (Source: Dr. Nguyen’s research)

Water Pollution: Regulation & Lawsuits

  • Water safety standards were established in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, granting the E.P.A. the authority to regulate the levels of various metals, bacteria, pesticides, and other harmful contaminants detectable in water.

  • In March 2024, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations to tighten drinking water standards for six types of PFAS, significantly reducing the allowable detectable amounts.

  • Chemours, DuPont, and Corteva have agreed in principle to establish a $1.19 billion fund to aid in the removal of toxic PFAS from public drinking water systems, settling claims linked to cancer and other illnesses.

Sources & References

Here are the details of the articles from the provided URLs:

  1. “Eau en bouteille – Aux arômes de microplastiques – Actualité – UFC-Que Choisir”, published on 2024-04-02 by Elsa Casalegno. URL: https://www.quechoisir.org/actualite-eau-en-bouteille-aux-aromes-de-microplastiques-n115362/
  2. “PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ Are Pervasive in Water Worldwide, Study Finds”, published on 2024-04-08. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/04/08/climate/pfas-forever-chemicals-water.html?searchResultPosition=1
  3. “Is That Water Too Polluted to Swim in?”, published on 2023-07-28. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/28/well/live/water-contamination-beach-safety-swimming.html?searchResultPosition=7
  4. This URL was not provided in the search results, so I do not have the details for this article.
  5. “PFAS Pollution Settlement Reached in Lawsuit Against 3M and DuPont”, published on 2023-06-02. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/02/business/pfas-pollution-settlement.html?searchResultPosition=22
  6. “Hundreds rally in S Korea against Fukushima wastewater release plan”, published on 2023-08-12 by Al Jazeera. URL: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/12/hundreds-rally-in-s-korea-against-fukushima-wastewater-release-plan
  7. “Dubai Turns to Desalination to Quench Thirst, Highlighting Water Scarcity”, published on 2023-11-18. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/18/business/dubai-water-desalination.html?searchResultPosition=29
  8. “Thousands of Fish Dead After Spill in Iowa River”, published on 2024-03-29. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/29/us/iowa-spill-fish-kill.html?searchResultPosition=39
  9. “New York City Struggles to Replace Lead Water Pipes”, published on 2023-07-18 by The Guardian. URL: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/jul/18/new-york-lead-contamination-water-pipes
  10. “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know” – published on 2024-04-05. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know#prevent
  11. “Globally, 3 billion people at health risk due to scarce data on water quality” – published on 2024-03-29. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/globally-3-billion-people-health-risk-due-scarce-data-water-quality
  12. “Concern with water pollution in the U.S. 2023” – published on 2024-01-12. https://www.statista.com/statistics/491201/water-quality-satisfaction-in-the-united-states/
  13. Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/506548/share-industrial-sector-water-releases-in-the-us-by-sector/
  14. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/10/water-pollution-in-india-data-tech-solution/
  15. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02337-7
  16. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/361651929_Effects_of_Water_Pollution_on_Human_Health_and_Disease_Heterogeneity_A_Review

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