In 1959, the Cuyahoga River in Ohio became famous for being "the river that caught fire." This grabbed the attention of Timemagazine, which described it as "Some river! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows." The Cuyahoga fire and the resulting coverage are considered events that helped kickstart the environmental movement of the 1960s.
It has been more than half a century since that incident. Despite mounting support for the environment, there are still many massively polluted bodies of water across the planet. This gallery highlights 11 of the most polluted rivers in the world, which is but a small fraction of the earth's contaminated rivers, lakes, and oceans.
(Photo: Cleveland State University Library)
Lake Karachay – Russia
While the above image might appear to be rather placid, Lake Karachay was named the most polluted spot on Earth, according to a report by the Washington, D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute on nuclear waste. From 1951 to 1953, the Soviet Union used the lake as a dumping spot for all of the nuclear waste from their largest nuclear production facilities called Mayak.
In 1968, following a drought in the region, the wind carried radioactive dust away from the dried area of the lake, irradiating half a million people. According to Environmental Health Perspectives, "to help prevent such lethal airborne contamination, Russian engineers have been gradually covering Lake Karachay with stones and concrete blocks, a controversial remediation method. 'The stones help prevent the dust, but the weight also presses the sediments down and moves them closer to the groundwater,' says Thomas Nilsen, a researcher at the Bellona Foundation, 'It's a catch-22.'"
(Photo: Собственная работа/Wikimedia Commons)
Matanza-Riachuelo River – Buenos Aires, Argetina
This is but one example of the type of "water" that feeds into Matanza-Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Matanza-Riachuelo aptly translates into "Slaughter Creek," as 3.5 million people live in its contaminated basin. According to Argentine newspaper Página/12, $250,000,000 was set aside for a cleanup project in 1993, but only $1,000,000 was actually used to improve the conditions of the water. The rest was "misappropriated."
Citarum River – West Java, Indonesia
According toThe Guardian, rapid population growth over the last 20 years has brought over 5 million people to the areas surrounding the Citarum River in West Java, Indonesia. Along with this growth has come a flood of untreated household and industrial waste, threatening the health of everyone who comes in contact with the waters of the Citarum.
(Photo: Dadang Tri/Reuters)
Buriganga River – Dhaka, Bangladesh
Nearly 4 million people in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, are exposed to the consequences of water pollution every day. The chemical waste of mills and factories, home waste, medical waste, sewage, dead animals, plastics, and oil are some of the Buriganga's pollutants.
(Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters)
Ganges River – Allahabad, India
According to National Geographic, the Ganges river at Allahabad is "one of the holiest spots in Hinduism. Allahabad, Persian for "settled by God," plays host every dozen years to the Kumbh Mela, the biggest gathering of humanity on Earth, when tens of millions of pilgrims come to wash away their sins at the confluence of the three rivers."
However, due to the incredible amount of pollution found in the river, the government of Allahabad is grappling with the safety of this massive ritual.
(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
Yellow River – Lanzhou, China
In the Lanzhou Province of China, residents were disturbed to find the waters of their "Yellow" River turned red due to an unknown contaminant flowing out of a local sewer. According toTime, with China's popualtion and economy exploding, the environment often takes a backseat, resulting in chemicals spills into Chinese rivers almost every day, and rendering nearly all of the nation's surface water "unfit for human consumption."
Yamuna River – New Delhi, India
At first glance this may seem like a gargantuan man, rising above clouds accumulated over a vast ocean. Unfortunately, this is merely the picture of a man surrounded by the suds of pollutants in the Yamuna River as far as the eye can see. New Delhi, the capital of India, excretes over 500,000,000 gallons of untreated sewage into the river each day.
(Photo: Stringer India/Reuters)
Chaohu Lake – Anhui Province, China
Imagine waking up in the morning to a tall glass of this green sludge. Unfortunately for the residents surrounding the Chaohu Lake in Hefei, in the Anhui province of China, this algae-filled lake is their reality. This is why the Chinese government has invested approximately $8,000,000,000 towards the construction of 2,712 projects for the treatment of eight rivers and lakes throughout the country.
(Photo: Stringer Shanghai/Reuters)
Jordan River – Israel
Pilgrams flock to this site on the Jordan River believed to the the baptismal place of Jesus. But they may be getting more than they bargain for. Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East, says that the Jordan River is suffering from the diversion of 98 percent of its fresh water to Israel, Syria, and Jordan and from the massive amounts of untreated sewage and agricultural runoff discharged into the water.
(Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty)
Mississippi River – U.S.A.
While many of the most polluted rivers in the world are found in areas of incredibly dense population on the opposite side of the planet, the Mississippi River causes massive pollution of the Gulf of Mexico.
The pollution is so bad that the area surrounding the mouth of the Mississippi River is known as a Dead Zone. When the pollutants from the river reach the ocean they cause an algae bloom, which deprives the water of oxygen and kills off all of the living organisms, giving it the name dead zone. Of course, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill isn't doing anything to help those living organisms either.
So next time you find yourself faced with the the inconvenience of walking a little further to the nearest trashcan, remember that litter can easily get washed into the next closest body of water and add to the heavy amount of stress we are already putting on the Earth.