7 Biggest Culprits Behind Water Pollution Around the World


One of the biggest environmental problems today is water contamination, which has an impact on both human and animal health. Several factors contribute to it, including sewage, agricultural runoff, and industrial waste. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misunderstandings concerning the main causes of water pollution. Do you believe, for instance, that farms or manufacturers are mostly to blame for water pollution? Or might it be something quite different? While all of these factors do contribute to water contamination, human activity is actually the major contributor. It is crucial to comprehend this truth in order to take action to reduce water pollution and safeguard the ecosystem. Continue reading to find out more about the origins, impacts, and ways that we can all cooperate to lessen the effects of water pollution.


Water pollution is a global issue that has been caused by human activities and is having devastating effects on the environment.

  • Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of water pollution, with fertilizers and pesticides running off into rivers and lakes.
  • Industrial activities such as mining, oil drilling, and manufacturing are also major contributors to water pollution.
  • Urban runoff from cities can contain pollutants such as sewage, chemicals, and heavy metals.

Understanding the sources of water pollution is essential for developing effective strategies to reduce its impact on our planet.

Are you worried about what you’re putting in your body every day?

Do you pay close attention to things like sustainable foods and healthy ingredients?

Did you know that the water you drink might be doing more harm than anything else in your life?

Water pollution is a huge problem for everyone in the world. Some places see much more significant pollution problems than others, but water everywhere is being affected by a water pollution global issue that we should all be paying attention to. In this article, you’ll get a crash course in water pollution around the world. You’ll find out all about the seven most heavily polluted countries as well as what if anything they’re doing to try to make a difference. Now, if you’re ready to get started, it’s time to learn about water pollution in the world today and how it might be affecting you.

Water Pollution in the World Today

It’s no secret that water pollution is a big issue. Everyone around the world has to deal with it in some way, at some point in their lives, but many places are worse than others about it. The types of water pollution that face developed countries are different from those that plague developing countries, and it’s important to understand the distinctions between the two before you read any further. Below are a couple of lists to help you get started. In developed countries, water pollution has a handful of sources that are generally the same across the board.

  • Most developed countries can point to agriculture as the biggest culprit in their local water pollution. This industry also puts a huge strain on water sources, so agriculture doubly affects water in that it also leads to overuse in many areas. Pesticides and other chemicals used in regular agriculture are major pollutants of groundwater and surface water both, and they lead to a buildup of nitrates in surface water that causes toxic algal blooms.
  • In many developed countries, factories are another huge cause of water pollution. Whether these factories produce, store, or use toxic chemicals or they simply dump wastewater from their processes into freshwater sources, they are harming water and the environment in their area. You might think dumping wastewater into freshwater is an old problem that doesn’t exist anymore, but unfortunately, it happens in almost every developed country even now.
  • Developed countries also see a lot of water pollution from fuel emissions. Especially in large cities where the population is growing all the time, oil and fuel contribute a lot to water pollution. These substances often spill or leak, but even when that doesn’t happen, emissions get into the atmosphere and are carried through clouds until they rain down on the land and contaminate groundwater.The sources of water pollution in developing countries differ somewhat from those in developed countries, but the end result is much the same.
  • Waste management is one of the biggest causes of water pollution in developing countries. In small areas such as towns and villages with lower population numbers, many of these countries don’t have dedicated sewage or septic systems available. Therefore, the people who live there have no way to dispose of their waste, and it often pollutes the groundwater and even the surface water in the area. This leads to the spread of bacteria, illness, and parasites.
  • In these countries, agriculture is still a problem, but in different ways. Agricultural practices aren’t developed enough to focus on sustainable methods, so water is often over-used. Waste management is a problem here, too, since animal waste isn’t disposed of properly and dead animal bodies are usually not either.
  • A lack of dedicated water sources also contributes to the problem in these countries. Many of these rural communities don’t have taps for water distribution, and most of them rely on a single source of surface water. Sometimes they may have wells drilled, but unless this is done by a professional, the drilling may actually cause further pollution damage.

As you can see, there are some differences between the two types of countries, but when it comes to water pollution, we all have to face it sometime. In the next section, you’ll find out more specifics about water pollution in some of the biggest culprits around the world.

7 Biggest Water-Polluting Countries

So where is water pollution happening in the world? No matter where you live, remember that we are all affected by water pollution in our locality in any country. Some countries, however, are worse about this type of pollution than others, so depending on where you live, you might have a very significant problem to worry about. In this section, you’ll learn about the seven worst culprits in terms of water pollution. You’ll be introduced to a few surprising Facts about each one, and you’ll find out about some of the biggest incidents of water pollution in these places as well. If anything is being done on a national scale to cut back on pollution, that will be listed here too. Read on to learn more.

1. China


  • The Yangtze River is known as the most polluted river in China, while the Yellow River is known for being exploited beyond its means. This river is dry in some portions and seriously polluted in others, and it can’t sustain fish or animal life well anymore. The Pearl River is contaminated with industrial runoff and wastewater from nearby factories.
  • Small, rural villages in China are serviced by water supplies that are used by factories for dumping wastewater and toxic chemicals. These villages have seen a huge spike in the number of individuals with cancer since this practice began.
  • A study in 1999 showed that about 700 million people in China regularly drank water contaminated with human and animal waste. This was almost half the population at the time of the study, and this contaminated drinking water contributed to a huge number of disease outbreaks and infections from parasites in China.

Incidents of Pollution

  • In 2010, a major oil spill took place in China’s Yellow Sea following the explosion of a pipeline. 1500 tons of crude oil entered the sea and caused a 50-square kilometer belt of oil to stretch through the water. This caused serious pollution.
  • In 2013, sixteen thousand dead pigs were found in the Huangpu River, which led to the water being infected with porcine circovirus. While this isn’t harmful to people, it is deadly to pigs, and it was feared that the virus would spread to living pig stock from this strange instance of contamination.

What’s Being Done?

  • Laws – There are several laws in effect in China to regulate wastewater management and treatment of water supplies.
  • Quality standards – The Chinese government has a list of water quality standards that are different depending on the use of the water. Surface and groundwater are held to fairly high standards.
  • Enforcement of both of these is not very strict, and industries continue to dump wastewater in freshwater sources regularly.

2. United States


  • Pesticides are one of the biggest pollutants in the United States, with other chemicals coming in close behind. These chemicals can lead to neurological problems, nervous system damage, kidney and liver problems, and cancer in both humans and animals who drink the contaminated water.
  • A 2010 study by the Environmental Working Group found chromium-6, a carcinogen, present in the drinking water of at least 35 major cities in the United States. A 2016 study from Harvard found other cancer-causing chemicals present in the water in 33 states.

Incidents of Pollution

  • The Camp Lejeune water contamination incident occurred from 1953 to 1987 and contaminated the drinking water used by the people of this Marine Corps camp for decades. A high number of people who once lived in this camp later developed cancer from exposure to these chemicals.
  • In 2015, the Gold King Mine wastewater spill occurred when a plug holding back wastewater was accidentally broken and allowed toxic elements to spill into the nearby Cement Creek. The water is still polluted with heavy metals.
  • In Flint, Michigan a widespread water contamination event is still going on. Lead has slowly seeped into the drinking water in this town and contaminated water pipes, further exposing residents to lead poisoning. The water still hasn’t been cleaned up.

What’s Being Done?

  • The Safe Drinking Water Act regulates the amounts of contaminants that can be present in water in any given location in the country. It covers 91 different contaminants, but there are thousands present in the United States’ drinking water.
  • The Clean Water Act is an older piece of legislation that strives to regulate assessments of drinking water as well as investigations of chemical storage and transportation. It makes it illegal to dump wastewater without a permit.
  • Both of these are very difficult to enforce and will require stricter punishments for breaking these laws if any changes are to be made.

3. India


  • According to the World Health Organization, 626 million people in India openly defecate, which contributes significantly to the amount of pollution in all water sources. While there are steps being taken toward improved sanitation conditions in India, many of the sewage treatment plants in operation aren’t maintained well. Many diseases are widespread because of this.
  • 97 million people in India don’t have access to improved drinking water. People are gaining access as more and more programs are being put into action, but it will take a while.

Incidents of Pollution

  • In 1984, the world’s worst industrial disaster took place in Bhopal. This terrible incident occurred when several small leaks throughout the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant culminated in one massive leak that exposed five hundred thousand people to toxic gas. Over 3700 people died, and over five hundred thousand injuries took place.
  • According to a 2009 report, the water in this area is still heavily contaminated with toxic waste. This water supply services fifteen communities in the area.

What’s Being Done?

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974 was put into place to help regulate water resources and work toward conservation and cleaner drinking water for residents of India. The Act is still being amended to this day, with its most recent changes being made in 2003.
  • With such a high rate of open defecation in India, this Act can’t be enforced on a widespread level. While it focuses a lot on industries, it can’t change the habits of individuals.

4. Japan


  • Surface water makes up 70% of the drinking water sources used throughout Japan, especially since groundwater pollution has increased significantly in the past few decades. However, chlorine is becoming more present in drinking water from these sources.
  • Eutrophication is a big problem in enclosed water bodies throughout the country. This leads to algal blooms that severely affect the environment and can be toxic to humans. Red tide is very common.

Incidents of Pollution

  • The most well-known modern incident of water pollution in Japan is related to the Fukushima disaster. In 2013, two years after the disaster, radioactive water was still leaking into the surrounding ocean.
  • According to a 2013 report, over 71,000 gallons of radioactive water were spilling into the sea on a daily basis. Now, in 2016, it’s believed that some of this radioactive ocean water is reaching United States shores.

What’s Being Done?

  • The Basic Environment Plan focuses on a plan for the environment as a whole, including water protection and conservation, into the future. It lays out several objectives that are meant to help clean up water supplies and keep the environment beautiful and healthy as much as possible.
  • The Water Pollution Control Law regulates factories, businesses, and companies and their ability to dispose of wastewater in areas where people live. It also improves trends in domestic waste disposal across the country.

5. Germany


  • Many of Germany’s rivers are severely polluted. During a study that took place in 2015, it was determined that most of these rivers are nowhere near good quality water. 257 toxic compounds were found in German rivers and many in high levels.
  • Although the Rhine river has received a lot of help and cleanup efforts in the past decades, according to a local water utility service in the area, E. coli is still very present in the water. This makes the river unsafe for swimming and drinking.

Incidents of Pollution

  • On the outskirts of Bonn in 2015, very alkaline water was accidentally introduced to the drinking water supply near a pumping station. This water caused toxic reactions in people who used it.
  • At a chemical storehouse in Switzerland in 1986, a fire led to toxic chemicals being released into both the air and the water of the Rhine river. This water entered Germany through the Rhine, which turned red from the chemicals.

What’s Being Done?

  • The Federal Water Act, which came into being in 1957 and was last updated in 2002, attempts to assess the quality of water throughout Germany and strives to help clean up water sources into the future. It focuses largely on drinking water and other types of water for human consumption.
  • The Waste Water Charges Act regulates the type and amount of wastewater dumping that can legally be done by various industries. It also enacts fines and penalties for breaking this law.

6. Indonesia


  • Indonesian water makes up 6% of the water in the whole world. However, these water resources degrade by at least 15% and up to 35% every year.
  • 80% of the 250 million people who live in Indonesia didn’t have access to dedicated clean tap water sources as recently as 2000. Around 66% of these residents use river water for bathing and washing, which further contributes to pollution issues.

Incidents of Pollution

  • In 2004, a chemical plant in Indonesia exploded and caught fire, leading to the release of maleic anhydride into the atmosphere. The area around the plant was evacuated, but the explosion led to seventy casualties. After the event took place, water in the area surrounding the plant had a bad smell and caused itching and rashes when exposed to skin.
  • Buyat Bay is known for being one of the main dumping sites for the Newmont Mining Corporation. People who live in the area suffer from strange health problems, but the mining company still dumps hazardous materials into the water there even so.

What’s Being Done?

  • The Pollution Control Evaluation and Rating program encourages companies to adopt cleaner, safer business practices and look for environmentally friendly and sustainable ways to operate.
  • The Clean River Program encourages companies to enroll and promise to participate in regular water assessments and quality control checks.
  • The Natural Resources Management Division works to improve agricultural practices and shift them toward more modern and environmentally safe options. It seeks to conserve water sources throughout the country by enacting its various programs.

7. Brazil


  • Brazil creates over 161,000 tons of waste on a daily basis, and two-thirds of the municipalities in the country rely on landfills to dispose of that waste. These landfills lead to higher levels of soil toxicity and polluted groundwater in the area.
  • Over 800 tons of waste are dumped into Guanabara Bay on a daily basis, including waste that is infected with bacteria, fecal matter, and parasites. 16 million people rely on this bay for water, and four million of them don’t have a dedicated sewage system.

Incidents of Pollution

  • The three largest water pollution incidents in Brazil have all taken place in the same location: Guanabara Bay. These took place in 1975, 1997, and 2000. The 2000 Guanabara Bay oil spill was by far the worst. During this spill, 1.3 million liters of oil seeped into the water and killed a huge number of fish and water mammals that lived there.
  • The 2000 spill in Guanabara Bay caused the fishing industry to plummet and led to a serious economic downfall in the country. This spill brought about many changes in Brazilian water pollution policy and law.

What’s Being Done?

  • The National Policy on Water Resources specifies which water-related practices must be done with a permit or license from a public authority. It also prohibits certain types of water activities completely and allows for penalties for anyone who doesn’t comply with these rules.
  • The National Policy on Water Resources also mandates that anyone or any company who causes a water pollution incident must take care of that incident in some way. They must either physically clean it up themselves or pay enough money for the proper authorities to do so.


Are you surprised at the significant amount of water pollution taking place all over the world? You might feel a little shocked after reading some of this information, but remember that all is not lost. Although it does feel as though things are going to get pretty dire if we all continue down the same path into the future, most countries are starting to make more environmentally friendly shifts toward healthier and more sustainable practices and regulations that will keep freshwater sources clean and safe in the future. Although it might take some time to see significant positive changes from these movements, bear in mind that they do exist and they’re making progress every day. If you live in a place where you feel like the water pollution situation isn’t getting enough attention, however, don’t forget that there’s always something you can do to make a difference. Be brave and speak out to people in positions of power in your country, city, county, or state, and let your voice be heard. Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors, and consider starting a petition or some other documentation you can use to show your local government just how serious you and the people around you are about clean water. If all else fails, get out there and clean up the water yourself. Although you won’t be able to do anything like providing a dedicated chemical water treatment facility, you can help cut back on the amount of waste and debris that ends up in rivers across the world every year. Organize cleanup groups or volunteer with a local nonprofit organization to help improve the quality of freshwater sources where you live. There’s always something you can do to get involved. Don’t be afraid to reach out and find the right way you can help solve the problem of water pollution no matter where you live.

Additional Research:

5 Tips to Reduce Water Pollution from Biggest Producers

  1. Reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides in agricultural activities.
  2. Minimize the amount of wastewater discharged into rivers, lakes, and oceans.
  3. Properly dispose of hazardous materials such as oil, paint, and chemicals.
  4. Ensure that industrial processes are properly monitored and regulated.
  5. Encourage the use of renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.

ALSO: Plant trees near water sources to help reduce water pollution!</p

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About The Author

Carolyn Rodriguez
Research Writer
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Carolyn Rodriguez works at AllAboutWaterFilters as a content research writer, specializing in content resources regarding water pollution, contamination, and treatment. She has previously worked as an editing assistant, content production assistant, research assistant, and ghost writer for a range of websites, with a particular concentration on water pollution. She is currently writing regularly for AllAboutWaterFilters as well as her own water safety essays across the web.

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