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Environmental pollution in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Pollution occurs when harmful substances enter and contaminate the natural environment. It can be categorized in several ways, such as light and noise pollution, but the main types are air, water, and land. Whilst pollution can occur naturally, man-made pollution over the past century has caused significant damage to the world and its inhabitants, as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we live on gets contaminated.

In the United States, there are more than 100,000 premature deaths due to air pollution every year. One of the main causes of premature deaths is exposure to PM2.5 particulate matter. These tiny and deadly air pollutants are known to cause respiratory problems in the lungs and can affect hearts. The state of California has some of the highest PM2.5 levels in the U.S., with many of its cities having levels far greater than recommended limit.

The Golden State is also home to some of the country’s most hazardous sites. However, New Jersey has the most with more than 114 “Superfund sites”. Superfund sites get their name from the law that was passed in 1980, which allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the most contaminated sites in the U.S. and make the parties responsible clean them up, or carry out the clean up themselves using the Superfund. These sites include, amongst others, old mines, oil refineries, and landfill sites. As of 2020 there were more than 1,300 across the nation. Sites such as landfills can be especially hazardous to the environment, as harmful products such as old TV’s and mobile phones are dumped there. Electronic waste can contain toxic substances that, if not properly disposed of, can seep into soil and groundwater, poisoning water supplies.

There is currently a water crisis occurring in the U.S., with clean and safe water not always a guarantee. One high profile scandal was the Flint, Michigan water crisis in 2014. Thousands of residents were exposed to elevated lead levels in their drinking water after the supply was changed to the Flint River. Contaminated drinking water has been found in many states, exposing millions to harmful substances.

Whilst everyone from all walks of life are exposed to pollution in the U.S., there are clear racial disparities in pollution exposure. Black and Latino Americans are considerably more likely than White Americans to be within close proximity to hazardous facilities, such as chemical and waste plants. These facilities can increase human health risks, such as cancer.

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Pollution in the U.S.

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Air pollution

Water pollution

Land pollution

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