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Where does human waste mingle with household chemicals, personal hygiene products, pharmaceuticals, and everything else that goes down the drains in American homes and businesses? In sewers. And what can you get when rain, pesticides, fertilizers, automotive chemicals, and trash run off the streets and down the gutters into those very same sewers? Sewage backing up into people's basements. Sewage spilling onto streets and parks. Sewage pouring into rivers and streams. Each year, more than 860 billion gallons of this vile brew escapes sewer systems across the country. That's enough to flood all of Pennsylvania ankle-deep. It's enough for every American to take one bath each week for an entire year.

After bursting out of a pipe or manhole cover, this foul slurry pollutes the nearest body of water. Downstream, some of it may be pumped out, treated, and piped into more homes and businesses. From there, it goes back into a sewer system, and the cycle resumes. This is the situation along the Susquehanna River - which annual ranks in the top 15 of America's Most Endangered Rivers list. One hundred and twenty-three major sewer systems in the Susquehanna River watershed link toilets and faucets from New York to Maryland. Where the Susquehanna widens and becomes the Chesapeake Bay, vanishing seagrasses and dwindling seafood harvests provide evidence of poor sewage treatment and frequent sewage spills upstream.

A Threat to Human Health.

Invisible Toxic Water

Rollover the image to see what is on the other side of the river.

Untreated human sewage teems with salmonella, hepatitis, dysentery, cryptosporidium, and many other infectious diseases. One hundred years ago, epidemics of these diseases helped limit the life expectancy of a U.S. citizen to about 50 years. Estimates vary for how many people sewage still sickens or kills each year, but they are all large. Germs linger even after the stench of sewage has dispersed. Healthy adults may never realize that yesterday's swim caused today's cough, diarrhea, or ear infection.

Young children, their grandparents, and people already weakened by illness are more likely to become seriously ill or die. Scientists believe as many as 3.5 million Americans get sick each year after swimming, boating, fishing, or otherwise touching water they thought was safe.

A 1998 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology blamed water pollution for one-third of all reported gastroenteritis cases and two-thirds of all ear infections. So…just which ten rivers are typically the most polluted? Of course, the list changes from year to year, but the ten below typically rank high.

On the list below you will see the name of the river and the states most responsible for the polluted conditions of the river.

  • 1. Mississippi River TN, AR, LA, MO, IL, MN, WI, IA, KY, MS
  • 2. Pacific Ocean OR, HI, CA
  • 3. Ohio River IL, IN, OH, KY, WV, PA
  • 4. Tennessee River KY, TN, AL 5. Houston Ship Channel TX
  • 6. Ward Cove AK
  • 7. Savannah River GA, SC
  • 8. Delaware River DE, PA, NJ
  • 9.Thames River CT
  • 10. Grays Harbor WA It's not just the people who play in and around the water who are at risk. Between 1985 and 2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documented 251 separate disease outbreaks and nearly half a million cases of waterborne illness from polluted drinking water in the United States. Another study by the CDC and the National Academy of Sciences concluded that most illnesses caused by eating tainted seafood have human sewage as the root cause.

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