A History of Pollutants in the Mississippi River


by: Ahreum Ham

In the late 1800's the Industrial Revolution took off in Minnesota with the lumbering industry. The lumbering industry eventually began dumping sawdust and other waste from the factories. Research by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1881 reported that many of the sand bars were filled with sawdust instead of sand. This was one of the pollutants of the Mississippi River in the 1800's. 

Other pollutants such as garbage waste and chemicals were being dumped into the river. At least 144 million gallons of sewage and garbage were being tossed into the river every single day by the 1930's. The pollution in the river caused disease outbreaks such as the typhoid outbreak in the late 1800's to the early 1900's. 

An average of 950 people were infected each year, while 95 people passed away each year. The number of the infected decreased when Minneapolis eventually used chlorine to disinfect and clean drinking water that was coming from the river. In 1938, the Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant was built to ensure clean drinking water for the public. 

The polluted water of the Mississippi River has caused the wildlife in the water to deteriorate. But with the help of the Federal Clean Water Act, many improvements have been made to clean the river and revive the wildlife population. Today, urban waste and chemicals are flowing into the river through stormwater drain systems and agricultural chemicals eventually find their way into the river. Even though many improvements have been made, there is still room for more improvement in the river water quality.

Ahreum served with Mississippi Park Connection as an intern through the YWCA's Girls Inc. Eureka! program—a five-year summer and school year program for girls interested in STEM fields.