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Your Environment. Your Health.

Water Pollution


water flowing out of a drain pipe

Water pollution is any contamination of water with chemicals or other foreign substances that are detrimental to human, plant, or animal health. These pollutants include fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural runoff; sewage and food processing waste; lead, mercury, and other heavy metals; chemical wastes from industrial discharges; and chemical contamination from hazardous waste sites. Worldwide, nearly 2 billion people drink contaminated water that could be harmful to their health.

What is NIEHS Doing?

NIEHS Research Efforts

  • 14th Report on Carcinogens - A congressionally mandated, science-based, public health document that NTP prepares for the HHS Secretary. This cumulative report currently includes 248 listings of agents, substances, mixtures, and exposure circumstances that are known or reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans.
  • Don't Be Bullied by Bacteria! Join the Fight for Clean Water! (515KB) - Brought to you by the grantee Mount Desert Island Water Quality Coalition and the Community Environmental Health Laboratory.
  • Gulf Oil Spill Response Efforts - NIEHS activated programs throughout the institute to provide timely and responsive services following the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill of 2010. NIEHS research efforts in this area continue.
  • GuLF STUDY - The GuLF STUDY (Gulf Long-term Follow-up Study) is a health study for individuals who helped with the oil spill response and clean-up, took training, signed up to work, or were sent to the Gulf to help in some way after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is leading this research with the support of many local community groups. The study is funded by the Intramural Program of the NIEHS and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund.
  • Investigating Methods to Improve Drinking Water - NIEHS grantee David Sedlak, Ph.D., University of California Berkeley, has devoted his career to improving drinking water quality. Read about his research efforts and findings.
  • Oil Spills - NIEHS Worker Training Program (WTP) awardees have provided resources, trainers, and subject matter expertise during many oil spill response and related cleanup operations. The following resources provide health and safety information for workers involved in oil spill response and cleanup activities

Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Press Releases

Additional Resources

  • Applying 21st Century Toxicology to Green Chemical and Material Design - Speakers from a number of fields participated in discussions and presentations over the course of the 2011 two-day event on “Applying 21st Century Toxicology to Green Chemical and Material Design” in environmental health decisions. Here you can find the PowerPoint presentations from each talk.
  • Environmental Wellness Toolkit - What surrounds you each day in your home, work, or neighborhood and the resources available to you can affect your health. You can’t always choose what’s in the environments you live, work, or play in. But taking small steps to make your environments safer and limiting your exposure to potentially harmful substances can help keep you healthier.
  • Ground Water and Drinking Water - Learn more about drinking water from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • In Small Doses: Arsenic - In Small Doses: Arsenic is a ten minute movie about the risks associated with exposure to potentially harmful amounts of arsenic in private well water.
  • Indigenous Health Collection- Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) present a collection of papers focusing on indigenous peoples who overall experience a disproportionate burden of several chronic diseases, compared with other racial and ethnic groups.
  • Scientists Dig Into Hard Questions About The Fluorinated Pollutants Known As PFAS - Scientists are ramping up research on the possible health effects of a large group of common but little-understood chemicals used in water-resistant clothing, stain-resistant furniture, nonstick cookware and many other consumer products.
  • West Virginia Chemical Spill - The National Toxicology Program completed a series of studies on the toxicity of chemicals that spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia, January 2014.

Related Health Topics

For Educators

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