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15 Shocking Water Pollution Statistics You Should Know in 2023

Water pollution is a growing concern around the world, with millions of people impacted by its devastating effects. From contaminated drinking water to the destruction of marine ecosystems, the consequences of water pollution are far-reaching and long-lasting. 

Shocking water pollution statistics reveal the extent of the problem, with alarming levels of pollutants found in water sources worldwide. As the demand for freshwater continues to rise, urgent action is needed to protect our most valuable resource and ensure a sustainable future for all.

Top 7 Water Pollution Statistics You Should Know in 2023

  • Every year, unsafe water sources cause 1.2 million deaths.
  • Over 8 million tonnes of plastic are released into the seas annually.
  • More than half of US rivers and streams are unsafe for drinking, swimming, and fishing.
  • Over 40 million Americans are drinking water that contains harmful chemicals.
  • Over 80% of global wastewater is released into the environment without any treatment.
  • Approximately 70% of lakes and rivers in China aren’t safe for human use.
  • In 2020, 56.97% of people in Mexico didn’t have access to clean water.

What Is Water Pollution?

Water pollution is the contamination of water bodies such as lakes, rivers, oceans, and groundwater, making them unsuitable. That happens when pollutants find their way into the water without proper treatment, and they accumulate to levels that cause harm to aquatic life and human health. 

There are many cases of water pollution, including industrial activities, agricultural practices, improper waste disposal, oil spills, and sewage discharge. The pollutants can be chemicals, microorganisms, heat, or sediments. 

Water pollution can have severe effects, leading to the death of aquatic organisms, the loss of biodiversity, and diseases. Also, it poses a risk to human health, especially when drinking polluted water or using it for recreational purposes.

We’ll dive into more detail on all of these issues below.

Types of Water Pollution

There are 7 types of water pollution, including:

  1. Chemical pollution: This occurs when harmful chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and industrial waste are released into water bodies.
  2. Biological pollution: It comes from organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites in the water, causing diseases in humans and aquatic life.
  3. Physical pollution: This is the presence of physical materials in the water, such as plastic, metal, and sediment. These materials can cause harm to aquatic life and the environment.
  4. Thermal pollution: It occurs when heated water is discharged into a water body, altering the temperature and affecting aquatic life.
  5. Nutrient pollution: Excessive nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, cause eutrophication, harmful algal blooms, and oxygen depletion.
  6. Radiological pollution: It’s the presence of radioactive substances in the water, which can cause harm to aquatic life and humans.
  7. Oil pollution: This occurs when oil spills or leaks into the water, causing harm to marine life and the environment.

Now, let’s see who’s behind all that pollution.

bird taking out plastic wrap from water

Water Pollution Causes

Water pollution can have various causes, including:

  • Industrial activities: Many industries release toxic chemicals into nearby rivers, lakes, and oceans.
  • Agricultural practices: Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers can seep into water sources and cause pollution.
  • Municipal sewage: Some wastewater treatment plants cannot handle the sewage and wastewater generated by cities and towns, leading to pollution of nearby water sources.
  • Oil and chemical spills: Accidents and mishandling of hazardous materials can lead to oil spills and chemical leaks, which can pollute nearby water sources.
  • Improper waste disposal: Fishing boats and cargo ships release plastic into the oceans.
  • Atmospheric deposition: Pollutants released into the air can be carried by rain and other forms of precipitation, leading to water pollution.
  • Natural causes: Floods and landslides can also cause water pollution. 

As the water pollution stats below will show, humans are a major cause of water pollution. We discharge sewage, wastewater, and industrial waste into water bodies, causing contamination that can harm aquatic life and our health. We also use fertilizers and pesticides on crops, which can end up in waterways. 

Even littering, like throwing plastic into rivers or lakes, can cause harm to aquatic animals and disrupt ecosystems. Overall, human activities are a significant contributor to water pollution and its impact on the environment.

Effects of Water Pollution on the Environment

Water pollution can have numerous adverse effects on the environment, including:

  • Loss of biodiversity: Water pollution can harm aquatic animals and plants, leading to a loss of biodiversity in rivers, lakes, and oceans.
  • Algae bloom: Excessive nutrients from agricultural and industrial waste can lead to the growth of harmful algae, which can cause oxygen depletion and kill fish.
  • Contamination of soil and groundwater: Water pollution can contaminate soil and groundwater, affecting the quality of crops and the availability of safe drinking water.
  • Food chain disruption: Polluted water can disrupt the food chain, affecting the availability of food for humans and animals.
  • Habitat destruction: Water pollution can destroy the natural habitats of aquatic animals and plants, leading to their extinction.
  • Economic impact: Water pollution can result in economic losses due to decreased tourism, loss of fisheries, and increased healthcare costs.

Water Quality Facts

Access to clean and safe water is essential for human health and the environment, yet water quality is deteriorating worldwide. What’s even worse is that our water resources are finite, with only 3% of the planet’s water being safe to use.

The presence of pollutants such as chemicals, plastics, and agricultural runoff is leading to a decline in water quality, affecting aquatic ecosystems and threatening the health of millions of people globally. Here are the mains stats you should know about:

1. Every year, unsafe water sources cause 1.2 million deaths.

(Source: Our World in Data)

That equals 6% of the deaths in poor countries where access to clean water is a major health concern. Lack of clean water leads to increased risks of a number of diseases, including cholera, hepatitis, dysentery, and polio. 

2. Over 80% of global wastewater is released into the environment without any treatment.

(Source: UNESCO)

Untreated wastewater presents a health risk, and water pollution facts and statistics show that a third of all rivers in developing countries face this issue. This polluted water contributes to diseases like cholera, rotavirus, and typhoid fever.

3. Over 8 million tonnes of plastic are released into the seas annually. 

(Source: The Guardian)

The main sources of this pollution come from rivers and fishing vessels. Plastic pollution can cause harm to marine ecosystems, disrupting the food chain and affecting the availability of seafood for human consumption. Plastics can release chemicals, which are endocrine disruptors and can have harmful effects on the human hormonal system.

plastic water bottle in the sea

Global Water Pollution Statistics

Water pollution is a major environmental issue affecting countries worldwide, and its consequences are far-reaching, affecting human health, the economy, and the environment. Here are the regions of the world where this problem is more and more pressing:

4. In 2022, waste was the cause of 148 confirmed cases of marine pollution in Japan.

(Source: Statista)

In 17 of those cases, the pollution was caused by foreign vessels. The Seto Inland Sea recorded the highest number of confirmed cases of marine pollution in Japan that year. 

5. Around 1,300 villages in Indonesia experienced issues with water pollution in 2021.

(Source: Statista)

Although the country holds over 6% of the global water resources, it’s still tough to find clean water there. Water contamination facts show that only 12% of the people living in Indonesia have access to clean drinking water.

6. In 2020, 56.97% of people in Mexico didn’t have access to clean water.

(Source: Our World in Data)

Mexico has made a lot of progress in the last 20 years by providing better access to piped water supply and improved sanitation in both cities and rural areas. However, not enough money is being spent to help low-income communities get access to safe water.

More than half of households in Mexico that have piped water don’t get it all the time, and Mexican people drink more bottled water than anyone else in the world.

7. In 2021, large amounts of released polluted water in Angola caused 12 deaths and over 4,000 ill people.

(Source: Mongabay)

Data on water pollution in this case showed that the leak came from a diamond mine and affected 1 million people and communities around the Kasai river. This polluted water further killed off most of the aquatic life in the river. Despite the far-reaching environmental impact of this catastrophe, the government has done little to help its people.

8. About 80% of Pakistanis face water shortage for at least a month every year. 

(Source: Hindawi)

Since there isn’t enough surface water, people are using up too much groundwater (the last option for getting water). If the government and the people don’t start taking action soon, the water shortage will get worse and by 2025 the whole country will find itself in a dire situation without enough water supply.

United States Water Pollution Statistics

Water pollution is a significant environmental challenge facing the United States, affecting rivers, lakes, and groundwater resources. Let’s examine the regions most affected by this issue and its impact on public health.

9. More than half of US rivers and streams are unsafe for drinking, swimming, and fishing.

(Source: Earth.org)

The primary cause of contamination in rivers and streams in the United States is agricultural pollution. This results from agricultural activities such as excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, as well as animal waste.

10. In 2020, over 21,000 facilities in the US released around 194 million pounds of toxic chemicals into water bodies.

(Source: Statista)

Of all the chemicals released into the water, 91% of the major sources of water pollution were nitrate compounds. These compounds can dissolve in water and are commonly created when wastewater is treated.

11. Over 40 million Americans are drinking water that contains harmful chemicals. 

(Source: Statista)

Those chemicals are called PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and don’t break down naturally. While drinking moldy water is relatively safe, these chemicals can potentially cause various health issues, including kidney disease, cancer, and liver damage. 

12. In 2022, unsafe contaminants like arsenic and nitrate in drinking water put nearly a million Californians at risk of long-term health issues.

(Source: Earth.org)

The toxic chemicals led to a risk of cancer, liver, and kidney problems. The State Water Board has been criticized for failing to prioritize the improvement of drinking water quality and address the issue, despite having access to adequate funding to do so.

diver finding plastic bag

China Water Pollution Facts

Water pollution is a persistent and significant problem in China, with a vast majority of its rivers and lakes contaminated with pollutants. What’s worse, China’s geography further exacerbates the issue in parts of the country.

13. Approximately 70% of lakes and rivers in China aren’t safe for human use.

(Source: SCMP)

Water pollution has been a long-standing issue in China, and researchers attribute this to the failure of local governments to adhere to the established water quality standards. What’s worse, there are no frequent updates on the water quality in the country. This issue leads to over 100,000 deaths and results in economic losses of US$1.5 trillion annually.

14. China’s Yangtze River is the primary origin of ocean plastic globally, contributing to over 50% of all marine plastic pollution.

(Source: Earth.org)

The Yangtze River is a vital water source for the country. It discharges hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic into the ocean every year, worsening the impact of water pollution. Research conducted on 21 species of sea and freshwater fish from Chinese waters has revealed that all of them have ingested plastic, meaning that humans eating fish from these waters have also ingested plastic.

15. Around 30% of China’s areas suffer quantity and quality-based water scarcity.

(Source: Nature)

Water quality is poor in China due to a combination of factors such as rapid industrialization, urbanization, and population growth, which have led to significant water pollution from industrial and domestic wastewater, agriculture, and other sources.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, the statistics about water pollution are a wake-up call to take urgent action to protect our water resources. 

Every individual has a role to play in reducing pollution, from simple steps like properly disposing of waste to supporting policies and initiatives that promote sustainable water management. You should also ensure that the water you’re drinking daily is safe. For instance, not replacing your reusable water bottle can also cause health issues. 

We must work together to ensure access to safe and clean water for all, now and in the future. With a shared commitment to addressing water pollution, we can make a positive impact on our planet and safeguard the health and well-being of current and future generations.


What is the leading cause of water pollution?

The leading cause of water pollution varies by location, but generally, human activities are the main issue. Some common causes of water pollution include untreated sewage and wastewater, agricultural runoff containing fertilizers and pesticides, industrial discharges, oil spills, and littering.

How is water pollution caused by humans?

Water pollution statistics show that human activities cause water pollution by releasing harmful substances into bodies of water. Some common causes of water pollution include dumping untreated sewage and wastewater, industrial activities that release chemicals and waste products, and agricultural practices that involve using fertilizers and pesticides that can run off into nearby streams and rivers. 

Even small everyday actions such as littering, using plastic bags, and not properly disposing of household hazardous waste can contribute to water pollution.

Who is the biggest water polluter?

Some of the largest water polluters include industries such as agriculture, mining, and manufacturing, which can discharge pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, and heavy metals into water bodies. Municipalities and households also contribute to this issue by releasing untreated wastewater into rivers and oceans.

Where is water pollution happening in the world?

Water pollution is a global problem, and it occurs in many parts of the world, from developing countries to industrialized nations. Data on water pollution around the world shows that some of the regions where the problem is severe include South & East Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe.

How many people die from water pollution?

Water pollution causes approximately 1.2 million deaths per year. That’s mainly due to diarrheal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. Also, water pollution can cause other health problems such as cancer, neurological disorders, and reproductive issues, which can lead to long-term health consequences.

How does water pollution affect aquatic life?

Water pollution can have a devastating effect on aquatic life. It can cause harm or even death to fish, birds, mammals, and other organisms that live in or near bodies of water. Polluted water can reduce oxygen levels, making it difficult for aquatic animals to breathe. It can also disrupt the food chain by killing off smaller organisms that larger animals rely on for food.

How much of the ocean is polluted?

The exact amount of the ocean that is polluted is difficult to determine as pollution is not evenly distributed across the world’s oceans. According to a report by the United Nations, as much as 13 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans every year, which can harm marine life and ecosystems.

Is water pollution increasing?

Many studies and water pollution statistics suggest that it remains a significant problem worldwide and may be increasing in some regions due to factors such as population growth, urbanization, and industrialization.


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