Editor’s Note (3/14/23): This story is being republished to provide background on the Biden administration’s announcement of a proposal to regulate six perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in drinking water.

Many Americans fill up a glass of water from their faucet without worrying whether it might be dangerous. But the crisis of lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich., showed that safe, potable tap water is not a given in this country. Now a study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy organization, reveals a widespread problem: the drinking water of a majority of Americans likely contains “forever chemicals.” These compounds may take hundreds, or even thousands, of years to break down in the environment. They can also persist in the human body, potentially causing health problems.

A handful of states have set about trying to address these contaminants, which are scientifically known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). But no federal limits have been set on the concentration of the chemicals in water, as they have for other pollutants such as benzene, uranium and arsenic. With a new presidential administration coming into office this week, experts say the federal government finally needs to remedy that oversight. “The PFAS pollution crisis is a public health emergency,” wrote Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs, in a recent public statement.

Of the more than 9,000 known PFAS compounds, 600 are currently used in the U.S. in countless products, including firefighting foam, cookware, cosmetics, carpet treatments and even dental floss. Scientists call PFASs “forever chemicals” because their chemistry keeps them from breaking down under typical environmental conditions. “One of the unique features of PFAS compounds is the carbon-fluorine bond,” explains David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “That bond is incredibly strong.” Ultimately this means that if PFASs enter the environment, they build up. These chemicals can linger on geologic time scales, explains Chris Higgins, a civil and environmental engineer at the Colorado School of Mines.

Because of their widespread use, release and disposal over the decades, PFASs show up virtually everywhere: in soil, surface water, the atmosphere, the deep ocean—and even the human body. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site says that the agency has found PFASs in the blood of nearly everyone it has tested for them, “indicating widespread exposure to these PFAS in the U.S. population.” Scientists have found links between a number of the chemicals and many health concerns—including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, developmental toxicity, ulcerative colitis, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced preeclampsia and hypertension, and immune dysfunction.

Concerned about PFASs’ persistence and potential harm, Andrews and his EWG colleague Olga Naidenko set out to assess Americans’ exposure to the chemicals via their drinking water. PFASs can get into this water in a variety of ways. For example, industrial sites might release the compounds into the water or air. Or they can leach from disposal sites. They can also percolate into groundwater from the firefighting foams used at airports and military bases. Andrews and Naidenko say there is a need for research into drinking-water levels because the federal government does not require testing water for PFASs. This leaves a gap in scientists’ understanding of overall exposure. Andrews and Naidenko focused their analysis on two types of these chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—because those compounds had the most available data. The two researchers pulled that information together from various sources, including state agencies, the federal government and the EWG’s own measurements.

The scientists estimated that more than 200 million people—the majority of Americans—have tap water contaminated with a mixture of PFOA and PFOS at concentrations of one part per trillion (ppt) or higher. Andrews and Naidenko say previous research shows that levels higher than one ppt can increase the risk of conditions such as testicular cancer, delayed mammary gland development, liver tumors, high cholesterol and effects on children’s immune response to vaccinations. “It’s a calculation of what would be a safe exposure level,” Andrews says. Even when the researchers shifted their analysis to a higher level of 10 ppt, they still found some 18 million to 80 million Americans to be exposed. Representatives of the chemical industry have disagreed with such concerns. “We believe there is no scientific basis for maximum contaminant levels lower than 70 ppt,” the American Chemistry Council said in statement to Scientific American.

Experts not involved in the new research, which was published recently in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, say these findings are exactly what they had expected—and that is troubling. “This is going to be kind of sad, but I wasn’t at all surprised that they exist in many different water systems and that many, many people are getting exposed through their drinking water,” says Jamie DeWitt, an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. Zhanyun Wang, an environmental scientist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, raises concerns about how widespread this class of chemicals is. “It’s a little bit scary that it is so prevalent in the U.S., which has quite a big population,” he says. “Now that we know that PFAS has a rather low safety level.”

And Andrews and Naidenko’s study does not even fully capture Americans’ exposure to these chemicals because it only looks at two PFAS compounds and one source. “We’re also being exposed to many more PFASs via the drinking water,” Wang says. The paper omitted other compounds because of a lack of widespread data, “but it means [the study offers] a conservative estimate of how we are being exposed to PFASs,” he adds. Higgins notes that people are also exposed to the compounds in substances besides drinking water, such as household products and food. “It’s a much broader exposure question,” he says. “Those other sources of exposure should not be ignored.”

Andrews and Naidenko agree that the lack of data on other PFAS contamination is a problem. Other tests of drinking water from five systems in Massachusetts showed that levels of specific PFASs researchers looked for have risen over the past few decades. When scientists tested for PFASs as a group (to include compounds for which there are not much individual data), the increase was even larger. It remains unclear whether this trend holds true across the rest of the country. “That is really [because of] an absence of data—where the regulatory bodies have not kept up with the chemical industry, which has really moved away from PFOA and PFOS into hundreds of replacement compounds that are equally persistent and likely do contaminate a significant number of water systems across the country,” Andrews says. The Environmental Protection Agency says it is working on the PFAS problem. “Aggressively addressing PFAS in drinking water continues to be an active and ongoing priority for the EPA,” an EPA spokesperson wrote to Scientific American. “The agency has taken significant steps to monitor for PFAS in drinking water and is following the process provided under the Safe Drinking Water Act to address these chemicals.”

Technologies to remove PFASs from drinking water exist on both household and municipal levels. Granular activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis are two options, but they are costly and high-maintenance—and the burden falls on taxpayers. “PFASs are produced by companies, for which they receive a profit,” DeWitt says. “And then residents end up paying to clean up the pollution.” On top of that, PFAS that is removed from drinking water may simply end up elsewhere, such as in a landfill or river.

Some states have instituted or proposed limits on PFASs in drinking water, but experts say federal action is needed to tackle such a widespread problem. President Joe Biden’s administration may finally address that need. His campaign’s environmental justice plan specifically called out forever chemicals. And the plan said that the president will “tackle PFAS pollution by designating PFAS as a hazardous substance, setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS.” The new administration could carry out all of these goals unilaterally through executive action, without Congress’s cooperation. Some experts appear optimistic about this prospect. “I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will reempower the EPA so that it can actually create regulations to protect public health,” DeWitt says. “That is the agency’s charge—that is its mission.”

Chemicals in Tap Water: The Shocking Truth of What You’re Really Drinking

Last Updated: Oct 14, 2019


chemicals in tap water

You would think that cities who supply drinking water to their residents are providing a safe means of staying alive. After all, water is life.

And while most of us remain comfortable with the thought that the city cleans our water for us – that could be far from the truth. Industrial dumping, pesticide run-off, leaky storage tanks, and government mandates have created a scenario where the chemicals in tap water have got a little out of hand (and you’ll soon see why).

The Chemicals in Tap Water

I’ve provided a long list of chemicals in tap water in the section below, but I wanted to highlight a few key chemicals that are exposing you and/or your family to sickness every time you use the water.

Arsenic is one contaminant that has very lenient standards. In fact, arsenic is one chemical that is allowed (in small amounts) to creep into our water supply. According to The Center for Public Integrity, the CDC’s 2013 report states that most Americans regularly consume small amounts of arsenic. This poison can cause major health concerns, like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. It also has negative impacts on cognitive development (1).

Pesticides are another concern that enter our water supply. Pesticides like atrazine and the infamous glyphosate (Round-up) have both been found in drinking water. According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America, Atrazine is present in 94% of US drinking water as per USDA testing (2). These pesticides are known endocrine disruptors and have also been linked to cancer.

Lead is also found in our drinking water, as one report demonstrated, with levels showing up higher than what should be deemed safe (3). Homes and buildings that were built before 1986 may be equipped with pipes and structures that contaminate the water with lead. Even low levels of lead are known to cause behavior and learning problems in children, as well as lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. In older individuals, lead can result in decreased kidney function, reproductive problems and increased blood pressure. It can also result in reduced growth of fetuses in pregnant women, or cause premature births (4).

Fluoride if you haven’t already heard, isn’t actually necessary for healthy teeth. Even York University decided to do a review of existing studies that looked at the benefits of fluoride. The outcome? Scientific evidence trying to back up the argument that fluoride is beneficial for us was weak at best (5). They determined that more studies would have to be done to see if the benefits of fluoride really outweigh the risks. Over 90% of the fluoride added to our water supply is called fluorosilicic acid, which is actually a by-product of fertilizer manufacturing (6). Fluoride exposure has been linked to brain abnormalities, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, gastrointestinal effects, kidney disease, skeletal fluorosis and more.

Pharmaceuticals are also, unfortunately, found in our tap water. In fact, over 41 million Americans are drinking tap water that contains antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones (7). One study also found that wastewater treatment plants contained pharmaceuticals that ranges from oxycodone to Tylenol, with at least 25 drugs found in affected samples (8). How do pharmaceuticals enter our water? Runoff from pharmaceutical companies and improper disposal of drugs from hospitals, farms, cemeteries, and sewage. Basically, anything that goes down the drain can enter our water supply. What’s worse is that wastewater treatments don’t even take the necessary steps to remove all the drugs from the water.

The Shocking Truth of What’s Really in Your Tap Water

Not many people are made aware of the chemicals in tap water. If I told you that most tap water around the world contains heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides and pharmaceutical drug contaminants, then you probably wouldn’t be drinking it, would you?

Well, unfortunately, most tap water does contain these elements. This means they’re going into your body and settling in your fat tissue, where they build up and make us sick, diseased and ill as we age.

The chemicals in tap water may include some or most of the following (9):

– Bromodichloromethane
– Bromoform
– Chloroform

Inorganic Minerals
– Chloramine
– Chloride
– Chlorine Residual
– Free Chlorine

Heavy Metals

– Aluminum
– Antimony
– Barium
– Beryllium
– Bismuth
– Cadmium
– Cobalt
– Chromium
– Chromium 6
– Copper
– Iron
– Lead
– Mercury
– Molybdenum
– Nickel
– Vanadium
– Zinc

– Total Coliform
– Fecal Coliform
– E. Coli

Pharmaceutical Drugs

– Acetaminophen
– Caffeine
– Carbamazepine
– Ciprofloxacin HCl
– Erythromycin USP
– Sulfamethoxazole
– Trimethoprim
– Bisphenol A
– Diclofenac Sodium
– 4-para-Nonylphenol
– 4-tert-Octylphenol
– Primidone
– Progesterone
– Gemfibrozil
– Ibuprofen
– Naproxen Sodium
– Triclosan

Pesticides & VOC’s

– 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane
– 1,1,1-Trichloroethane (TCA)
– 1,1,2,2-Tetrachloroethane
– 1,1,2-Trichloroethane
– 1,1,2-Trichlorotrifluoroethane
– 1,1-Dichloroethane (1,1-DCA)
– 1,1-Dichloroethylene (1,1-DCE)
– 1,1-Dichloropropene
– 1,2,3-Trichlorobenzene
– 1,2,3-Trichloropropane
– 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene
– 1,2,4-Trimethylbenzene
– 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP)
– 1,2-Dibromoethane
– 1,2-Dichloro-1,1,2-trifluoroethane (CFC 123a)
– 1,2-Dichlorobenzene
– 1,2-Dichlorobenzene-d4
– 1,2-Dichloroethane
– 1,2-Dichloropropane
– 1,3,5-Trimethylbenzene
– 1,3-Dichlorobenzene
– 1,3-Dichloropropene
– 1,4-Dichlorobenzene
– 2,2-Dichloropropane
– 2,4,5-T
– 2,4,5-TP (Silvex)
– 2,4-D
– 2,4-DB
– 2-Butanone (MEK)
– 2-Chlorotoluene
– 2-Hexanone
– 2-Methyl-2-propanol
– 3,5-Dichlorobenzoic Acid
– 3-Hydroxycarbofuran
– 4-Bromofluorobenzene
– 4-Chlorotoluene
– 4-Isopropyltoluene
– 4-Methyl-2-pentanone
– 4-Nitrophenol4,4′-DDD4,4′-DDE
– 4,4″-DDT
– 5-Hydroxydicamba
– Acetone
– Acenaphthylene
– Acifluorfen
– Alachlor
– Aldicarb
– Aldicarb Sulfone
– Aldicarb Sulfoxide
– Aldrin
– Alpha-Chlorodane
– Ametryn
– Anthracene
– Aroclor (1016, 1221, 1232, 1242, 1248, 1254, 1260)
– Atraton
– Atrazine
– Baygon
– Bentazon
– Benzene
– Bromacil
– Bromoacetic Acid

– Bromobenzene
– Bromochloromethane
– Bromodichloromethane
– Bromomethane

– Bromoform
– Butachlor
– Butylate
– Butylbenzylphthalate
– Carbaryl
– Carbofuran
– Carbon Tetrachloride
– Carboxin
– Chloramben
– Chlordane
– Chloroacetic Acid
– Chlorobenzene
– Chlorobenzilate
– Chloroethane
– Chloroform
– Chloromethane
– Chlorpropham
– Chlorprophane
– cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene
– cis-1,3-Dichloropropene
– cis-Nonachlor
– Cycloate
– Dacthal Acid
– Dalapon
– Diazinona
– Dibromoacetic Acid
– Dibromochloropropane (DBCP)
– Dibromomethane
– Dicamba
– Dichloroacetic Acid
– Dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC 12)
– Dichloromethane
– Dichlorvos
– Diclorprop
– DieldrinDiethylphthalate
– Dinoseb
– Diphenamid
– Disulfoton
– Disulfoton Sulfone
– Disulfoton Sulfoxidea
– Endrin
– Ethoprop
– Ethylbenzene
– Ethylene Dibromide (EDB)
– Fenamiphos
– Fenarimol
– Fluorobenzene
– Fluridone
– gamma-Chlorodane
– Glyphosate
– Halo acidic Acids (HAA5)
– Heptachlor
– Heptachlor Epoxide
– Hexachlorobenzene
– Hexachlorobutadiene (CCC)
– Hexachlorocyclopentadiene
– HexazinoneIsophorone
– Isopropylbenzene (Cumene)
– Lindane (Gamma-BHC)
– Merphos
– Methiocarb
– Methomyl
– Methoxychlor
– Methylcyclohexane-methane
– Methyl Paraoxon
– Methyl tert-Butyl Ether (MTBE)
– Metolachlor
– Metribuzin
– Mevinphos
– MGK 264
– Molinate
– Monochlorobenzene
– m-Xylenes
– Naphthalene
– Napropamide
– n-Butylbenzene
– Norflurazon
– n-Propylbenzene
– Oxamyl
– o-Xylene
– Pebulate
– Pentachlorophenol
– Picloram
– Prometon
– Prometryn
– Pronamidea
– Propazine
– p-Xylenes
– sec-Butylbenzene
– Simazine
– Simetryn
– Stirofos
– Styrene
– Tebuthiuron
– Terbacil
– Terbufos
– Terbutryn
– tert-Butylbenzene
– Tetrachloroethylene (PCE)
– Tetrahydrofuran (THF)
– Thiobencarb
– Toluene
– Toxaphene
– trans-1,2-Dichloroethylene
– trans-1,3-Dichloropropene
– trans-Nonachlor
– Triademefon
– Tribromoacetic Acid
– Trichloroacetic Acid
– Trichloroethene (TCE)
– Trichloroethylene
– Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC 11)
– Tricyclazole
– Trifuralin
– Vernolate
– Vinyl Chloride


– Arsenic
– Fluorene
– Fluoride
– Manganese
– Nitrites
– PCB’s
– Petroleum Products (Gasoline, Diesel, Crude Oil, Kerosene, Mineral Spirits, Refined Oil)
– Selenium
– Thallium
– Rust
– Microplastics (10)

While some of these elements aren’t found in all tap water across different countries, a good majority of them are, so keeping yourself protected is important.

How To Protect Yourself

If you’re concerned about the chemicals in tap water, you can install a whole-house filter, or you can get a counter-top filter for drinking water. While whole-house filters ensure that all the water you use (on your skin, the stuff you consume, and the stuff you wash your dishes and produce in) is clean. If you’re looking for something a little more budget-friendly, then counter-top filtration devices are your best bet.

My two favorite water filtration devices are:

The Berkey Water Filter

The Berkey is the water filtration device I currently use, because I am going to be moving in a few years, and it wouldn’t be worth it to me to install an entire home water filter system. I really love the Berkey water filter – it’s a countertop device that is easy to assemble, and removes essentially every contaminant listed above.

I’ve been using the Berkey for about one year now, and I’ve only had to scrub the black filters once, and replace the fluoride filters once. The black carbon filters only need replacing once every 4-5 years or so, and the fluoride filters need to be replaced once every 8 months to a year (pretty great, if you ask me!).

A Berkey system costs around 1.6 cents per gallon, whereas whole house distillation systems and RO systems (when properly maintained) cost between 35-65 cents per gallon.

The taste of the water that Berkey produces is incredible, and it allows all the minerals to pass through (so you’re not drinking dead water). It also saves the hassle of lugging in 18 liter jugs into your home (which, might I add, totally messed up my shoulder, which I’m still dealing with). So, all in all, I really love the Berkey and think it would be a great investment for anyone wanting to make a relatively cheap initial investment, for water that tastes good and requires little effort to make (just fill it up once it’s empty, and that’s it!).


Aquasana is an awesome water filtration company that offers countertop water filters, under the counter water filters and even whole house water filters. If you’d like to make sure that no fluoride is entering your water, then you can get their reverse osmosis (RO) system, which filters out all contaminants plus fluoride.

All Aquasana drinking water filters are certified to remove and reduce:
– Chlorine and chloramines
– Heavy metals
– Chlorine resistant cysts
– Herbicides and pesticides
– VOCs
– Pharmaceuticals
– and more…

You can also collect local spring water, or buy an 18 liter jug and fill it up with reverse osmosis water at your local grocery store. There are lots of options, you just need to find the right option that fits your budget! Let me know in the comments below if you have a favorite water filtration device, or if you use any of those mentioned in here

Why are we EXPECTED to have to pay for equipment to clean our  WATER??  Why do they just expect us to buy bottled water or maintain our own in house water filtration system to remove the chemicals they put in our water???

Pollution of the Ocean by Sewage, Nutrients, and Chemicals

Coastal waters receive a variety of land-based water pollutants, ranging from petroleum wastes to pesticides to excess sediments. Marine waters also receive wastes directly from offshore activities, such as ocean-based dumping (e.g., from ships and offshore oil and gas operations).

One pollutant in the ocean is sewage. Human sewage largely consists of excrement from toilet-flushing; wastewater from bathing, laundry, and dishwashing; and animal and vegetable matter from food preparation that is disposed through an in-sink garbage disposal. Because coasts are densely populated, the amount of sewage reaching seas and oceans is of particular concern because some substances it contains can harm ecosystems and pose a significant public health threat. In addition to the nutrients which can cause overenrichment of receiving waterbodies, sewage carries an array of potentially disease-causing microbes known as pathogens.

Animal wastes from feedlots and other agricultural operations (e.g., manure-spreading on cropland) pose concerns similar to those of human wastes by virtue of their microbial composition. Just as inland rivers, lakes, and groundwater can be contaminated by pathogenic microbes, so can coastal waters. Runoff from agricultural areas also contains nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which can cause overenrichment in coastal regions that ultimately receive the runoff.

The major types of ocean pollutants from industrial sources can be generally categorized as petroleum, hazardous, thermal, and radioactive. Petroleum products are oil and oil-derived chemicals used for fuel, manufacturing, plastics-making, and many other purposes. Hazardous wastes are chemicals that are toxic (poisonous at certain levels), reactive (capable of producing explosive gases), corrosive (able to corrode steel), or ignitable (flammable). Thermal wastes are heated wastewaters, typically from power plants and factories, where water is used for cooling purposes. Radioactive wastes contain chemical elements having an unstable nucleus that will spontaneously decay with the concurrent emission of ionizing radiation.

Sewage and Agricultural Wastes

Sewage originates primarily from domestic, commercial, and industrial sources. In many developed countries, these wastes typically are delivered either to on-site septic systems or to centralized sewage treatment facilities. In both methods, sewage is treated before being discharged, either underground (in the case of septic tanks) or to receiving surface-water bodies (in the case of sewage treatment plants), typically a stream, river, or coastal outlet.

Although sewage treatment facilities are designed to accommodate and treat sewage from their service area, partly treated or even untreated sewage sometimes is discharged. Causative factors include decayed infrastructure ; facility malfunctions; or heavy rainfall events which overwhelm systems using combined sewers and stormwater drains (known as combined sewer overflows). In unsewered areas, improperly designed or malfunctioning septic tanks can contaminate groundwater and surface water, including coastal waters. In some developed regions (e.g., Halifax Harbor in Nova Scotia, Canada), raw sewage continues to pour into harbors, bays, and coastal waters. In developing countries with no on-site or centralized sanitation facilities, no opportunity exists for any type of treatment, and human wastes go directly into surface waters, including the coastal ocean.

Sewage Sludge.

Another source of ocean pollution by sewage-related waste is the disposal of biosolids, a semisolid byproduct of the sewage treatment process, often called sludge. Historically, sludge in developed nations was disposed in coastal waters: New York’s twenty sewage treatment plants, for example, once disposed their sludge offshore in a region known as the New York Bight. Although today’s environmental regulations in the United States prohibit this practice, sewage sludge is still disposed at sea in some countries.


Disease-causing microbes are the primary human health risk in sewage-contaminated waters, and the main cause of recreational beach closures. Here a sign warns San Diego beachgoers of sewage in the waters.

Disease-causing microbes are the primary human health risk in sewage-contaminated waters, and the main cause of recreational beach closures. Here a sign warns San Diego beachgoers of sewage in the waters.


Agricultural Wastes.

Animal wastes often reach waterbodies via runoff across the land surface, or by seepage through the surface soil layers. Hence, agricultural runoff containing animal wastes does not receive any “treatment” except what is naturally afforded by microbial activity during its transit to a waterbody. In coastal watersheds, these wastes can flow through river networks that eventually empty into the sea.

Coastal Eutrophication.

Nutrients and organic materials from plants, animals, and humans that enter coastal waters, either directly or indirectly, can stimulate a biological, chemical, and physical progression known as eutrophication. Coastal eutrophication is commonly observed in estuaries , bays, and marginal seas. In a broad sense, coastal eutrophication mirrors the eutrophication of lakes. For example, as increased nutrients stimulate algal and other plant growth, light transmission decreases. The eventual bacterial decay of algae and other plants lowers the dissolved oxygen level in the water. In extreme cases, all of the oxygen can be removed.

Human-accelerated eutrophication (known as cultural eutrophication) can be triggered by inputs of sewage, sludge, fertilizers, or other wastes containing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. As recently as the 1980s, for example, the New York Bight was essentially lifeless due to oxygen depletion, caused largely by decades of sewage and sludge disposal. As of 2002, Halifax Harbor was still receiving a daily influx of raw sewage, creating serious ecological and public health concerns.

Nutrient-enriched runoff from agricultural land in the midwestern United States is the primary cause of the well-known Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone.” Half of the U.S. farms are located in the Mississippi River Basin, whose entire drainage basin empties into the gulf. Much of the nitrogen reaching the gulf is from agricultural fertilizers, with lesser amounts from residential fertilizers and other sources. The water of the 20,000-kilometer (7,728-square-mile) Dead Zone, extending from the mouth of the Mississippi River Basin to beyond the Texas border, has so little oxygen that essentially no marine life exists.

If human-accelerated eutrophication is not reversed, the entire coastal ecosystem ultimately may be changed. Sensitive species may be replaced by more tolerant and resilient species, and biologically diverse communities may be replaced by less diverse ones. Further, nutrient enrichment and the associated eutrophication in coastal waters is implicated in some harmful algal blooms, in which certain species of algae produce biotoxins (natural poisons) that can be transferred through the food web, potentially harming higher-order consumers such as marine mammals and humans.

Human Health.

Sewage, particularly if partially treated or untreated, brings high microbe concentrations into the ocean. Human diseases can be caused by waterborne pathogens that contact the skin or eyes; waterborne pathogens that are accidentally ingested when water is swallowed; or foodborne pathogens found in the tissues of fish and shellfish consumed as seafood. *

Beach pollution consequently is a persistent public health problem. Annually, thousands of swimming advisories and beach closings are experienced because high levels of disease-causing microbes are found in the water. Sewage often is responsible for the harmful microbial levels.

Seafood contaminated by sewage-related pathogens sickens untold numbers of people worldwide. Regulatory agencies will close a fishery when contamination is detected. However, many countries lack regulatory oversight or the resources to adequately monitor their fisheries.

Industrial Wastes

Industrial wastes primarily enter coastal waters from terrestrial (land-based) activities. Industries, like municipalities and other entities that generate wastes, dispose of many liquid wastes through wastewater systems (and ultimately to waterbodies), whereas they dispose of their solid wastes in landfills.

The quantity and characteristics of industrial wastewater depends on the type of industry, its water and wastewater management, and its type of waste pretreatment (if any) before delivery to a wastewater (sewage) treatment plant. Because industrial waste frequently goes down the same sewers as domestic and commercial nonindustrial waste, sewage often contains high levels of industrial chemicals and heavy metals (e.g., lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic).

Substances that are not removed by wastewater treatment processes are discharged via the treated effluent to a receiving stream, river, or coastal outlet. Inland waters ultimately reach the ocean, carrying with them some residual chemical that are not attenuated, stored, or degraded during their journey through the watershed. Other land-based sources of industrial pollutants in the ocean are pipeline discharges and transportation accidents, leaking underground storage tanks, and activities at ports and harbors. Intentional, illegal dumping in inland watersheds and in inland waterbodies also can deliver industrial wastes to drainageways, and ultimately to the ocean.

In coastal watersheds, some industries discharge their wastes directly to the ocean. Like industries located inland, these industries must first obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act. Industrial pollutants also can directly enter the ocean by accidental spills or intentional dumping at sea.

Wet and dry deposition of airborne pollutants is a sometimes overlooked, yet significant, source of chemical pollution of the oceans. For example, sulfur dioxide from a factory smokestack begins as air pollution. The polluted air mixes with atmospheric moisture to produce airborne sulfuric acid that falls on water and land as acid rain. This deposition can change the chemistry and ecology of an aquatic ecosystem. The major transport of PCBs to the ocean, for example, occurs through airborne deposition.

Industrial chemicals can adversely affect the growth, reproduction, and development of many marine animals. Pollutants are appearing not only in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and their marginal seas, but also in the more remote and once-pristine polar oceans. An array of contaminants have been found in the flesh of fish and marine mammals in polar regions. In addition to the environmental and ecological issues, there is growing concern over the potential human health impacts in aboriginal communities whose residents depend on fish and marine mammals for daily sustenance.

A major public health concern is the safety of seafood as it relates to the chemical pollution of waters used for commercial and recreational fishing and mariculture . Heavy metals (e.g., copper, lead, mercury, and arsenic) can reach high levels inside marine animals, and then be passed along as seafood for humans. A well-known case of human poisoning occurred in Japan, where one industry dumped mercury compounds into Minimata Bay from 1932 to 1968. Methyl mercury that accumulated in fish and other animals was passed along to humans who consumed them. Over 3,000 human victims and an unknown number of animals succumbed to what became known as “Minimata Disease”, a devastating illness that affects the central nervous system.

Monitoring by fisheries, environmental, and public health agencies can prevent or minimize cases of human illness caused by chemical contaminants in seafood. Some shellfish-producing areas off the U.S. coasts have been either permanently closed or declared indefinitely off-limits by health officials as a result of this type of pollution. A large percentage of U.S. fish and shellfish consumption advisories are due to abnormally high concentrations of chemical contaminants in seafood.

Regulatory Controls

The 1890 River and Harbors Act prohibited any obstruction to the navigation of U.S. Waters, and hence regulated the discharge of dredged material into inland and coastal waters. By weight, dredged material comprises 95 percent of all ocean disposal on a global basis. Its regulation (administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) increasingly is being accomplished in concert with broader concerns, including ecological integrity and other public interests.

In 1972, the U.S. Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (Ocean Dumping Act) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (Clean Water Act) that, among other goals, prohibited the disposal of waste materials into the ocean, and regulated the discharge of wastes through pipelines into the ocean. The Ocean Dumping Act requires the federal review of all proposed operations involving the transportation of waste materials for the purpose of ocean dumping, and calls for an assessment of the potential environmental and human health impacts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implement the permit programs associated with these laws.


In the United States, ocean dumping of industrial wastes is prohibited. Yet the vastness of the open sea provides a haven for illegal dumping.

The Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 significantly amended portions of the 1972 Ocean Dumping Act, and banned ocean dumping of municipal sewage sludge and industrial wastes (with limited exceptions) by phased target dates. The disposal of sewage sludge in waters off New York City was a major motivation for its enactment. Ocean disposal of sewage sludge and industrial waste was totally banned after 1991. Narrow exceptions were created for certain U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge materials that occasionally are deposited offshore. Dredging is necessary to maintain navigation routes for trade and national defense. Consequently, allowable ocean dumping in the United States since 1991 has essentially been limited to dredge material and fish wastes.

Two international conferences in 1972—the UN Conference on the Human Environment, and the Intergovernmental Conference on the Convention on the Dumping of Wastes at Sea—were the result of international recognition of the need to regulate ocean disposal from land-based sources on a global basis. These conferences resulted in an international treaty, the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (also known as the London Convention).

Another treaty addressing the issue of wastes disposed from vessels was adopted in 1973. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (or MARPOL) calls for signatory nations to enforce bans on dumping oil and noxious liquids into the ocean from ships, but the disposal of hazardous substances, sewage, and plastics remains optional.

As per the U.S. regulations, the dumping of industrial wastes, radioactive wastes, warfare agents (chemical or biological), sewage, and incineration at sea are directly prohibited. Moreover, the ocean disposal of other waste materials containing greater than trace amounts of certain chemicals is strictly prohibited. Allowed under strictly regulated conditions are the ocean disposal of relatively uncontaminated dredged material (harbor sediments), geologic material, and some fish waste; burial at sea; and ship disposal.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress enacted the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) to reduce the risk of disease to users of the nation’s coastal and Great Lakes waters. Funds are being made available for states and tribes to establish monitoring programs for disease-causing microbes, and to notify the public when monitoring indicates and public health hazard.

Cindy Clendenon

(with William Arthur Atkins )


Clark, Robert B. Marine Pollution, 4th ed. New York: Oxford Press, 1997.

Gorman, Martha. Environmental Hazards: Marine Pollution. Santa Barbara, CA: ABCCLIO, 1993.

Internet Resources

Assessing and Monitoring Floatable Debris. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oceans and Coastal Protection Division. <http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/debris/floatingdebris/toc.html> .

Beaches. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. <http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/beaches/> .

Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Assessment, National Oceanic Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. <http://www.nos.noaa.gov/products/pubs_hypox.html#Intro> .

Marine Pollution Control Programs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Oceans and Coastal Protection Division. <http://www.epa.gov/owow/oceans/regs/index.html> .

Marine Pollution in the United States. Pew Oceans Commission. Available online at <http://pewoceans.org/reports/022701report.pdf> .

“Oceans and Coastal Resources: A Briefing Book.” Congressional Research Service Report 97-588 ENR, National Council for Science and the Environment. <http://www.crie.org/nle/crsreports/briefingbooks/oceans/a3.cfm> .

Pollution. The Ocean Conservancy. <http://www.oceanconservancy.org/dynamic/issues/threats/pollution/pollution.htm> .


The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of sewage from commercial and recreational vessels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, and individual states work jointly to protect human health and the aquatic environment from disease-causing microorganisms which may be present in sewage from boats. The act established standards for marine sanitation devices and nodischarge zone designations for vessels. As of 2002, seventeen coastal and Great Lakes states had designated part or all of their surface waters as no-discharge zones. Also that year, the Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard were assessing potential regulatory amendments that would more stringently regulate discharges from cruise ships in offshore waters.

See “Human Health and Water” for a summary of common waterborne pathogens.


Am I the only one who finds it upsetting that our tax money goes for everything BUT what it was intended for?  We pay taxes to cover the cost of maintaining our infrastructure and protecting our environment.  Our country is falling apart and the our environment is in high distress because of what mankind has done to it.  It should be abundantly clear that science and industry has not been able to resolve any of our problems.  Why do we continue to throw good money, time and energy after bad?  Stop the madness!  Let’s get back to what is REAL and NATURAL.  Put away all the toys.   Quit looking for the easy way out, because there isn’t one.  It is time to own up and fess up that we have turned away from life as it was meant to be.  It is time to get back in right standing with the ONE who created ALL LIFE.   IF we want to live and NOT DIE!