U.S. Waterways in Crisis: A Toxic Report

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Imagine discovering that the water flowing through your city carries dangerous toxins. This realization is the starting point for our journey into uncovering the most contaminated waterways in the United States. Armed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, we dive deep into an analysis covering 300 of America’s most populous cities. Through easy-to-understand maps and insightful analysis, we will navigate the troubling waters of chemical pollution, offering a clearer view of the states and cities most affected by industrial discharges.

📌 Key Takeaways

Chemical Discharge by State Over 10 Years:

  • Least: New Hampshire (5,216 lbs.), Rhode Island (5,583 lbs.), Arizona (11,747 lbs.)
  • Most: Indiana (175.6 million lbs.), Texas (160.1 million lbs.), Louisiana (129.8 million lbs.)

Top Chemicals Discharged into Waterways:

  • Nitrate compounds (1.8 billion lbs.)
  • Manganese compounds (52.2 million lbs.)
  • Ammonia (45 million lbs.)

Industries Contributing Most to Chemical Release into Waterways:

  • Food (699.8 million lbs.)
  • Primary metals (291.7 million lbs.)
  • Petroleum products (288.1 million lbs.)

Industrial Discharge Levels in Largest U.S. Cities:

  • Highest: Sioux Falls, SD; Augusta, GA; Corpus Christi, TX
  • Lowest: Killeen, TX; Stockton, CA; Ontario, CA; Elgin, IL; Lewisville, TX; Salem, OR (each with only 1 lb. of chemicals discharged)

Industrial Impact on U.S. Waterways

As society grows more conscious of our environmental footprint, the health of our waterways is under the microscope like never before. Our examination of industrial activities across the United States reveals some sharp contrasts in the ecological impact left by states on our water. Below, we’ve ranked all 50 states from the most to least polluted by the total pounds of chemicals they’ve released into their waterways from 2013 to 2022.

Indiana, Texas, and Louisiana were the states with the most significant chemical releases into waterways, contributing to a combined total of over 465 million pounds of pollutants. These staggering figures highlight a pressing need for regulatory scrutiny and sustainable industrial practices to mitigate the adverse effects on aquatic life and water quality. Conversely, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Arizona had remarkably low chemical releases, demonstrating that industrial progress and environmental stewardship can coexist.

The types of chemicals released tell a tale of varied industrial activities, with nitrate compounds in water leading due to their prevalent use in agriculture and industrial processes. Manganese and manganese compounds and ammonia also topped the list, reflecting the widespread impact of food processing, metal production, and chemical manufacturing on our waterways. Americans use water in industries across the nation, creating runoff and wastewater. The industries most responsible for chemical release into waterways by pounds were:

  • Food (699.8 million lbs.)
  • Primary metals (291.7 million lbs.)
  • Petroleum products (288.1 million lbs.)
  • Chemicals (283.8 million lbs.)
  • Paper (175.7 million lbs.)

This data not only informs us of the current state of pollution but also underscores the critical areas for intervention, from reducing agricultural runoff to revising manufacturing processes for lesser environmental impact.

Chemical Cities

Turning our gaze to the urban landscapes, the disparity in chemical releases into waterways becomes even more pronounced.

Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Augusta, Georgia; and Corpus Christi, Texas, had the highest levels of industrial discharge, with tens of millions of pounds of chemicals flowing into their waterways from 2013 to 2022. This stark reality underscores the urgent need for localized environmental management strategies and cleaner industrial practices to safeguard urban water resources.

In contrast, the following cities reported a mere one pound of chemical releases:

  • Killeen, Texas
  • Stockton, California
  • Ontario, California
  • Elgin, Illinois
  • Lewisville, Texas
  • Salem, Oregon

These numbers show us two important things: first, it’s possible for industries to have a small impact on our waterways, and second, they give us hope for cities all over the country. The big gap between the cities with the most and the least pollution points out how crucial good policies, responsible industry behaviors, and active community involvement are in keeping our city waters clean.

Charting a Course for Cleaner Waters

Our journey through the data reveals a compelling narrative of environmental stewardship and negligence. From the industrial heavyweights of Indiana, Texas, and Louisiana to the vigilant communities of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Arizona, the disparity in chemical releases into our nation’s waterways is stark. Cities like Sioux Falls, Augusta, and Corpus Christi face the daunting challenge of managing significant pollution levels, while others like Killeen and Stockton exemplify minimal impact.

The significance of this information cannot be overstated. It serves as a call to action for industries, policymakers, and citizens alike to prioritize environmental health and work toward a cleaner, more sustainable future. Let’s take these insights as a catalyst for change, embracing the responsibility to protect our planet’s precious waterways. In closing, this report offers a clear directive: the time for environmental stewardship is now. Our waterways’ health and our collective future depend on the choices we make today.


Data was collected from the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program to explore toxic chemical releases by industrial and federal facilities. The EPA’s report investigated over 400 different chemicals that appear in America’s waterways. We have outlined the highest concentrations. For the full report, please visit the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory Program site. We also analyzed 300 of the most populous U.S. cities that disclosed water chemical releases included in EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) Program.

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