Contamination – water pollution

And How To Mitigate This Insidious Problem

Water is a fundamental resource for all living beings, and access to clean drinking water is crucial for maintaining good health. However, drinking water pollution is a growing concern in the United States. This article aims to shed light on the current pollution levels, identify the sources of contamination, and discuss practical strategies to mitigate the problem.

The Importance of Clean Drinking Water

Clean drinking water is essential for maintaining hydration, supporting bodily functions, and preventing waterborne diseases. It plays a vital role in the overall well-being of individuals and communities. However, the pollution of water sources poses a significant threat to the availability of safe and clean drinking water.

Infographic of Global Water Quality Projections for 2050
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); and VEOLIA (1)

Current Drinking Water Pollution Levels in the United States

Drinking water pollution is a pressing issue in the United States. Although we’ve made significant progress in water treatment and regulation, there are still areas where pollution levels exceed acceptable limits. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors water quality across the country and identifies contaminants that pose risks to human health.

Water Quality Potential Sources of Pollution – poster from the USGS
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – Educational Poster

Sources of Drinking Water Contamination

Several sources contribute to the contamination of drinking water in the United States. Understanding these sources is crucial for devising effective strategies to address the issue.

Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)

The United States faces a significant issue with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), commonly known as “forever chemicals,” in drinking water (2). These chemicals remain long-term in the environment and accumulate in the human body, leading to various health problems. While some states have taken measures to address this concern, there are currently no federal regulations on the concentration of PFASs in water. PFASs are found in many products and have become widespread in soil, surface water, the atmosphere, and human bodies. A study estimated that over 200 million Americans, most of the population, have tap water contaminated with a mixture of specific PFAS compounds (at concentration levels of one part per trillion (ppt) or higher). 

Research has linked PFAS exposure to cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, developmental toxicity, high cholesterol, immune dysfunction, and other health issues (3). Although technologies exist to remove PFASs from drinking water, they are expensive and require ongoing maintenance. The financial burden of implementing these technologies falls primarily on taxpayers. Moreover, removing PFASs from drinking water may result in their accumulation in other areas. While some states have taken action, experts emphasize the need for federal regulations to address this widespread problem.

PFASs are used in numerous products, including firefighting foam, cookware, cosmetics, and carpet treatments. Due to their extensive use and improper disposal, these chemicals have become ubiquitous in soil, surface water, the atmosphere, and even the human body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found PFASs in nearly everyone tested’s blood, indicating widespread exposure (4).

Drawing of an oil drum with oil spilling out onto the ground – dead flower
Image by Richard Duijnstee from Pixabay

Industrial Pollution

Industries can release pollutants into water bodies through improper waste disposal or accidental spills. Chemicals, heavy metals, and other toxic substances can contaminate water sources, making them unsafe for consumption.

Agricultural Runoff

Agricultural activities, such as excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, contribute to water pollution. When it rains, these chemicals can wash off the fields and find their way into rivers, lakes, and groundwater, posing a risk to drinking water supplies.

Chemical Spills

Chemical spills, whether accidental or intentional, can have severe consequences for water quality. Hazardous substances can infiltrate water sources and have detrimental effects on both human health and the environment.

EPA’s 6th drinking water infrastructure needs survey assessment infographic 2018

Aging Infrastructure

The infrastructure for delivering clean water to homes and businesses is aging in many parts of the United States. Outdated pipes and systems can contaminate the water supply, compromising its quality.

Various Impacts of Drinking Water Pollution on Human Health

Drinking water contaminated with pollutants can lead to various health issues, ranging from gastrointestinal problems to long-term illnesses. Consuming water with high levels of contaminants like bacteria, viruses, heavy metals, or chemicals can have severe implications for human health, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant women, and aging adults.

For example, research indicates that the development of Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is affected by both genetic abnormalities and environmental toxicants. Some toxicants linked to ASD include pesticides, phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), solvents, toxic waste sites, and air pollutants. The strongest connections involve air pollutants and pesticides. A systematic review of studies on the connection indicates that the cause of ASD seems to be a combination of genetic factors and specific environmental toxicants that interact during crucial times in brain development, increasing ASD risk (5).

people at the beach picking up trash
Photo by Ron Lach

5 Ways to Mitigate Drinking Water Pollution

Addressing drinking water pollution requires a multifaceted approach involving government, communities, and individuals. Here are some strategies that can help mitigate the problem:

  1. Strengthening Regulations and Enforcement: Enhancing and strictly enforcing regulations related to water pollution is crucial. This includes setting strict limits on pollutants, monitoring compliance, and implementing penalties for violations. Regular inspections of industrial facilities and agricultural practices can ensure adherence to these regulations.
  2. Investing in Infrastructure Upgrades: Upgrading and maintaining water infrastructure is essential for ensuring clean drinking water. Replacing old pipes, improving treatment plants, and implementing advanced filtration technologies can help reduce the risk of contamination.
  3. Promoting Sustainable Agriculture Practices: Encouraging sustainable agricultural practices, such as organic farming and precision nutrient management, can minimize the use of harmful chemicals and reduce agricultural runoff. Additionally, promoting the use of alternative methods for pest control can contribute to cleaner water sources.
  4. Raising Awareness and Community Involvement: Educating the public about the importance of clean water and the impact of pollution is crucial. Increasing awareness can empower individuals to take action, such as participating in local clean-up initiatives, supporting organizations working on water conservation, and advocating for stronger environmental regulations.
  5. Supporting Organizations that Produce Sustainable, Green Products: Volunteer, donate, invest, and buy products from organizations dedicated to addressing planet health regarding climate change, landfill waste, soil health, and clean water and air. Check out Yummet, an organization where I live in Hawaii! Click on their logo below:
Glass bottle of water
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The Role of Individuals in Mitigating Drinking Water Pollution

Individuals also have a significant role to play in mitigating drinking water pollution. Some actions individuals can take include conserving water, properly disposing of hazardous materials, reducing single-use plastics use, and supporting environmentally responsible businesses.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Widget: How’s My Waterway?


Drinking water pollution is a critical issue in the United States that requires immediate attention. By understanding the sources of contamination and implementing effective strategies, we can work towards ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water for all. Through collaborative efforts between governments, communities, and individuals, we can mitigate the problem and protect this vital resource for future generations.

Earth splashing into ocean water - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. Is drinking water pollution a significant problem in the United States?

Yes, drinking water pollution is a significant problem in the United States. While improvements have been made, there are still areas where pollution levels exceed acceptable limits.

Q2. What are the sources of drinking water contamination?

Drinking water contamination can occur due to industrial pollution, agricultural runoff, chemical spills, and aging infrastructure.

Q3. How does drinking water pollution affect human health?

Drinking water pollution can lead to various health issues, ranging from gastrointestinal problems to long-term illnesses. Consuming contaminated water can harm human health, especially for vulnerable populations.

Q4. What can we do to mitigate drinking water pollution?

Mitigating drinking water pollution requires strengthening regulations and enforcement, investing in infrastructure upgrades, promoting sustainable agriculture practices, and raising awareness through community involvement.

Q5. What can individuals do to help reduce drinking water pollution?

Individuals can contribute by properly conserving water, properly disposing of hazardous materials, reducing single-use plastics, and supporting environmentally responsible practices.

Works Cited

1.         The murky future of global water quality: New global study projects rapid deterioration in water quality. [Internet]. Washington, D.C. and Chicago, IL: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); and VEOLIA; 2015 p. 12. Available from:

2.         Hu XC, Andrews DQ, Lindstrom AB, Bruton TA, Schaider LA, Grandjean P, et al. Detection of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in U.S. Drinking Water Linked to Industrial Sites, Military Fire Training Areas, and Wastewater Treatment Plants. Environ Sci Technol Lett. 2016 Oct 11;3(10):344–50.

3.         Fenton SE, Ducatman A, Boobis A, DeWitt JC, Lau C, Ng C, et al. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substance Toxicity and Human Health Review: Current State of Knowledge and Strategies for Informing Future Research. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2020/12/07 ed. 2021 Mar;40(3):606–30.

4.         Per- and Polyfluorinated Substances (PFAS) Factsheet | National Biomonitoring Program | CDC [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jun 18]. Available from:

5.         Rossignol DA, Genuis SJ, Frye RE. Environmental toxicants and autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. Transl Psychiatry. 2014 Feb 11;4(2):e360–e360.


The medical information in this article, on our website and all our social media sites, is provided as an information resource and is not to be used or relied on for diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your healthcare provider before making wellness decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. 

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