20 Most Water Polluted Cities in the USA


In Brief: Top Water Polluted Cities in America

The most polluted cities in the USA are Flint- Michigan, Pittsburg-Pennsylvania, Milwaukee-Wisconsin, Reno-Nevada, Las Vegas- Nevada, Fresno-California, Modesto-California, San Diego-California, Riverside- California, Dos Palos- California, Brady-Texas, Midland-Texas, Houston-Texas, Jacksonville-Florida, Pensacola-Florida, Omaha-Nebraska, Charleston- West Virginia, Washington-DC, Baltimore-Maryland, and City of Newburgh-Upstate New York.

Water pollution is a severe problem faced by many countries all over the world, and the United States of America is not an exception.

In this article, we will let you know the remarkable facts regarding the water contamination in the US and the cities which are greatly affected by it.

By the end of this, we hope you have an idea of how bad the situation is.

Top Water Polluted Cities in the USA

1. Flint, Michigan

The national scandal aroused in the small town of Flint when the lead was found in the city’s drinking water supply in 2014.

Flint officials are still working on replacing the old pipes, which are the source for the lead contamination.

Although lead levels have dropped over the years, people are still hesitant to use the lead-poisoned water.

2. Pittsburg, Pennsylvania

In 2016, the residents of Pittsburg were informed that they should boil their tap water before consumption or using for daily life activities.

It is revealed that the city’s tap water has 22 parts per billion lead, which is over the norm of 15 parts per billion.

The worst part is the officials tried to ignore and hide this fact from the residents for many years.

3. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Because of the aging plumbing structures, Milwaukee is also a victim of lead and chromium-6 contamination.

In 2016, the city’s mayor advised people who are living in homes constructed before 1951 to filter their water.

In 2018, the city’s health commissioner Bevan Baker resigned, unable to alert families who are tested positive for higher lead levels.

4. Reno, Nevada

Reno is making headlines recently with the city’s water containing more than 11 contaminants including, arsenic, manganese, and tetrachloroethylene, in amounts exceeding EPA limits.

5. Las Vegas, Nevada

Both Las Vegas and North Las Vegas have some of the worst drinking water in the US. More than 20 contaminants were found in the city’s water supply, some being over the health or legal limits.

Pollutants, including arsenic, lead, and even uranium, radium were detected.

6. Fresno, California

In 2017, Fresno’s water was reportedly suffering from the mining waste, and a total of 19 pollutants, including arsenic, aluminum, combined uranium, EDB, nitrate, are present in excess levels.

7. Modesto, California

Modesto has more than 13 different contaminants in its waters in amounts above the health guidelines.

The local agricultural practices and chemicals from it are known to be the primary source of water pollution here.

8. San Diego, California

One of the largest cities in the country, San Diego is tested positive for more than eight contaminants in its water and two of them exceeding the EPA limits.

9. Riverside, California

Riverside city has almost 15 contaminants, which are over the health guidelines in its drinking water supply.

Traces of bromoform and Uranium were also observed, which can cause chronic kidney disease, deformity of bones, and liver.

10. Dos Palos, California

Due to the California drought, the wells and ponds in the central valley cities like Dos Palos are dried up, and residents resorted to groundwater sources.

Pollutants like lead, arsenic made their way into the groundwater, causing water contamination.

The city has reportedly failed at least 22 safety tests from 2013-2018.

The citizens have turned to use bottled water after finding cancer and kidney risk related trihalomethanes in their water supply.

11. Brady, Texas

Brady is suffering from elevated levels of radium in its water supply, which is nine times higher than the norm set by EPA.

Radium could cause bone cancer, and the residents of the city resorted to bottled water.

It is estimated a sum of $2o million is needed to take care of the situation, but it seems impossible for the poor city of Brady.

12. Midland, Texas

A total of 30 contaminants, of which 13 exceeding EWA health guidelines and Arsenic exceeding legal limits, are present in Midland’s water.

13. Houston, Texas

Over 46 contaminants are found in Houston’s water, including radioactive material deposits, arsenic, lead, chloroform, and benzene and chlorination disinfection byproduct like haloacetic acids.

These harmful contaminants are the result of nuclear testing and mining waste.

14. Jacksonville, Florida

Florida is known to be a victim of poor water quality and the city Jacksonville found its water supply has twice the legal amount of trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic agent.

Besides arsenic, lead, calcium, and many other contaminants are also found partly due to the agricultural fertilizers and pesticides in the area.

15. Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola is deemed to have the worst water quality in the US because of the overwhelming discovery of 45 chemicals in the waters and half of them in harmful amounts.

Some of these chemicals are lead, benzene, tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, radium-228 and, chloroform, and cyanide.

16. Omaha, Nebraska

The most populous city in Nebraska, Omaha has twenty contaminants in its water supply, including arsenic, lead, nitrate, atrazine, manganese, and total trihalomethanes in illegal amounts.

It is a relief that EPA has issued a $69.7 million loan to build a Treatment Basin, to treat the city’s wastewater and remove harmful contaminants.

17. Charleston, West Virginia

Charleston experienced a chemical spill of a coal washing foam in 2014, which made the city’s water smells of licorice.

If this chemical makes contact with the skin, it can cause irritation or burning.

As of 2017, 8 contaminants were detected which crossed the health or legal limits.

18. Washington, DC

Lead contamination is a worry in the city of Washington, DC, too, mainly in the older and poor neighborhoods.
By 2016, 12,000 households are being supplied with lead polluted water.

19. Baltimore, Maryland

Though this city has comparatively lesser lead levels than the others, more than ten schools found excess levels of lead in its drinking water.

The Druid Lake reservoir in Baltimore is filled with particles containing bacteria, viruses, other parasites, and the officials are on board to control this situation.

20. City of Newburgh, Upstate New York

In 2016, PFO’s are identified in a 1.3 billion-gallon reservoir in Newburgh, and the city declared an emergency in 2016.

The reason for this contamination is back in 1990; New York Air National Guard spilled fire-fighting foam, which contains PFO’s into a stream that is connected to the reservoir.

Though the city has installed a new filtration system after the event, it still creating unease among the residents.

Some Facts about Water Pollution in the USA

It is important to know why the situation has come to this stage.

In this section, we will discuss the main reasons of pollution, how water pollution is having an impact on public health and various causes, effects, facts about it.

Drinking water pollution crisis in the USA

For more than a decade, drinking water used by 49 million people of the US has been polluted with dangerous levels of radioactive materials, arsenic, and bacteria.

Over 20% of the water treatment plants and facilities in the country are estimated to breach the Safe Drinking Water Act, and most of them were never took any precautions and continue to supply the polluted water till today.

Excessive pollution of lakes in the country

Around 40% of the lakes in the US are too polluted for marine life, fishing, swimming, or other activities.

The largest lake in Florida, Lake Okeechobee, is filled with polluted waters from the industrial waste, chemicals, fertilizers disposed into it.

Its waters enter as far as the Gulf of Mexico and causing grave water pollution there.

Harmful chromium-6 in the water

A 2010 EPA water quality assessment reported that chromium-6 is present in 35 different cities along with other small places in the US.

Chromium-6 is a very harmful material and is known to cause cancer and other congenital disabilities in humans.

Chromium-6 is tough to filter, and many communities in the country have been consuming water contaminated with it.

Harmful Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFA) in the water supply

PFAs have been found in the domestic water supplies in a study conducted by Harvard in 2016.

Out of 50 states, 33 states are believed to have water polluted with PFA’S, and over six million people were affected by it.

PFA’s can cause cancer, hormone-related diseases, and birth defects. It is noted that the states with PFA polluted water have higher cancer rates than the PFA absent states.

Chemical dumping by industries

Following Mississippi, Ohio River is one of the most polluted rivers with harmful Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) dumped into it by the industry.

Chemical dumping from the Dupont industry in the 1950s made Ohio River very dirty.

Ignored for many decades, this is causing severe water pollution as PFOA once entered into the environment is impossible to remove.

Agriculture is one of the primary sources of pollution

As per the National water quality assessment chart, agriculture is one of the primary sources of water pollution.

Agriculture is known to be the third-largest source of pollution in lakes, the second-largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a significant contributor to the contamination of groundwater and estuaries.

The United States has more than 330 million acres of land invested in agriculture and ranch, and every year 2 billion pounds of pesticides are used for farming.

These pesticides can potentially enter freshwater sources and cause contamination if not properly managed.

Here’s an image explaining the water contamination by pesticides used in agriculture,


Stormwater as a source of water pollution

Every year, in the United States, 1.2 trillion gallons of stormwater are entering freshwater bodies along with industrial wastewater and sewage.

Industries and individual establishments must take care of proper wastewater management; otherwise, they will leak into the ground and water sources, eventually causing harmful water contamination.

Hydromodification effects on waterways

Modifying the water bodies for land reclamation or construction is called hydromodification.

The National Water Quality Inventory reported that hydromodification is a leading source of water quality impairment in the US.

It is responsible for the pollution of approximately 20% of the rivers and streams, 18% of lakes, ponds, reservoirs and 14% of all estuaries in the country.

Water pollution due to fracking

In 2014, four different states suffered from water pollution due to drilling and fracking.

Though the idea of drilling or fracking as a direct source of water pollution is initially dismissed, Ohio Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Texas reported contaminated water in places where fracking was conventional.

Nutrient pollution and its severe impact on the water bodies

Nutrient pollution is caused due to the presence of surplus amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, which increases the growth of toxic algae in the water and harms humans.

Agricultural pesticides, fossil fuels, untreated wastewater, certain soaps used at home are the primary sources for it.

Nutrient pollution is prevalent in-ground/ surface water and found in 64% of shallow wells in agricultural and urban areas across the USA. Millions of people in the country are using this water for drinking.

More than 100,000 miles of rivers, streams, 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries in the US are affected by nutrient pollution.

Here’s a picture of a lake with excess algal growth –

Source: USGS.gov

Wetlands on the verge of disappearance

Wetlands, which provide a vast amount of drinking water to some of the most populated cities in the United States are on the brink of extinction.

Since 1900, 13 million hectares of forest and wetlands are dried and vanished every year due to water pollution and poor groundwater practices.

As a result, many species in the wetlands are extinct, and 1,361 endangered species of animals and plants are identified as of 2009.

Danger from waste and storage sites

More than 20,000 uncontrolled hazardous waste sites and storage tanks are posing a threat to groundwater quality.

There are estimated to be over 10 million storage tanks for oil, chemicals, etc. buried in the US. If these tanks corrode and crack, they can leak the contaminants into the groundwater.

Drinking such water poses serious health problems to the people.

Massive dead zones formation in the country

Nutrient pollution is spreading like a forest fire all over the country, affecting the quality of the water.

The surplus amounts of nutrients are killing the plant and aquatic life in the water bodies and creating massive dead zones.

More than 166 dead zones are documented across the country.

The Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone is the largest in the US, approximately 5,840 square miles in 2013. This is caused by the Mississippi River Basin, which dumps its nutrients into the gulf and other upstreams.

Water pollution effects on the economy

Reportedly, the tourism industry is experiencing a billion-dollar loss each year as the fishing, boating, and relaxation activities came to a halt due to the increase of harmful algae in the water.

The commercial fishing industry is undergoing tens of millions of dollars lost due to the death of fishes by the harmful algae in the polluted water.

The unpleasant odor and sight of the algal blooms are also affecting the real estate value.

Treating and preventing water pollution is a costly business

The American Water Works Association estimates that it would take several trillion dollars to repair the over 200, 000 water main breaks and leaks throughout the US water supply infrastructure.

Breaks and leaks in pipes could cause lead contamination and enable other contaminants to enter the water.

California is spending around 10 billion dollars to clean up its polluted water.


Water pollution in the USA is real, and you can’t ignore the severe effects of it.

You can, of course, take steps at a personal level to protect yourself from drinking polluted water by installing water purifiers etc., but the situation is too severe and needs immediate intervention.

Additional References

About Jennifer Moore

I'm Jennifer and I am a hardcore car racing lover. I have been writing on automotive topics for more than 8 years now, specializing in performance enhancement. My passion is to help people find the best of what they are looking for, be it an engine or a set of tires. If you want to know something about cars and how they work, just ask me!