Industrial Waste and Water Pollution

In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution transformed the world’s landscape and redefined urban areas with factories and industry. Products like steel, textiles, and an entire world of manufactured goods would become readily available to millions of people, and subsistence living became far less commonplace.

Unfortunately, with these advances came the biggest threat to our environment in the history of the planet: Industrial waste.

Factories, mining operations, power plants, and chemical manufacturing companies produce massive amounts of waste in the form of solids, liquids and gases. Many of these waste products are not disposed of properly. They are commonly dumped in rivers and oceans, and they end up in our environment, poisoning and killing aquatic life and livestock that rely on rivers and streams. They also end up in drinking water systems and can poison entire communities with chemicals whose affects are sometimes not known for years.

What Types of Industrial Waste Poison Water?

The nature of the contaminants that contaminate watersheds, waterways and water sources depends on the industry that creates them. Among the worst polluters are the mining industry, steel and iron production plants, industrial laundry cleaners, agriculture, power plants, the oil and gas industry, metal finishers, and even the food/beverage industry. A large number of byproducts, including chemicals like PFAS, PCBs and other “forever chemicals,” heavy metals, oils, pesticides, silt, pharmaceuticals and others have caused major damage across the nation.

These toxic pollutants are often extremely costly to clean up, and mitigation efforts are commonly left to water districts, municipalities, business owners, and land owners that are victims of corporate polluters.

Frazer Onder Environmental Law holds corporations accountable and makes them bear the cost burden of cleanup. We believe those who pollute should be those who pay.

Heavy Metals and Water Pollution

Heavy metals like arsenic (As), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni), and mercury (Hg) are released by paint and dye manufacturing plants, textile factories, pharmaceutical companies, paper mills and chemical plants. These are among the most hazardous environmental polluters, and cleaning them from land and water is exceedingly difficult and complex once they have spread.

Even small amounts of lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and arsenic are linked to cardiovascular diseases, developmental problems, neurologic disorders, diabetes, loss of hearing, and blood and immune disorders. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and International Agency for Reseach on Cancer (IARC), these heavy metals are also human carcinogens, known or probable.

Although there have been studies on the effects of specific heavy metals, little is known about the health impact when heavy metals are combined, as they often are in industrial waste. We do know that heavy metals affect the human body’s ability to absorb and utilize iron, calcium, copper, and zinc.

Phenolic Compounds

Phenol and phenolic compounds are byproducts in industries such as oil refining and petrochemical production and large manufacturing processes like pharmaceutical production, coking operations, plastic and resin manufacturing, paint and dye factories, pulp and paper mills, and wood product manufacturing.

The EPA has designated phenols as priority pollutants, and regulatory bodies from around the world have set strict discharge limits for phenols due to their potential to harm people and the environment. Phenols are linked to both acute and chronic health effects.

Long-term exposure can lead to acute breathing problems, including respiratory arrest, muscle weakness, tremors, and coma. They can be lethal. They are also linked to skin, eye, and mucous membrane irritation.

Chronic exposure leads to gastrointestinal and central nervous system problems, as well as liver, kidney, and cardiovascular damage. Syptoms of chronic exposure include inability or lack of desire to eat, weight loss, diarrhea, excessive salivation, vertigo, and discolored urine. Animal studies have revealed significant problems with fetal development in animals; the same may be true in humans.


They play major roles in our society because they are essential for just about everything we do. They are pervasive, and often useful, used polymers, solvents, synthetic fibers and rubber, detergents and soaps, plastics, drugs, agricultural chemicals, explosives, and construction materials. Though they are useful, when released into the environment, they can be exceedingly harmful to air, water and soil.

Oil seeps, industry biproducts, oil storage wastes, oil tanker spills, sludge treatment, waste from coal tar processing, and more contribute to huge amounts of petrochemical pollution worldwide. These chemicals are the principal pollutant responsible for greenhouse emissions that cause global warming.

Negative environmental impacts of petrochemicals are no joke. They include depletion of the world’s ozone layer, acid rain, and air and water pollution. They kill aquatic life and accumulate in tissues and organs of humans and wildlife, causing brain, nerve and liver damage, birth defects, cancer, asthma and hormonal disorders. Chronic exposure results in skin irritation, ulcers and allergic dermatitis.


Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) are what’s known as fluorinated organic compounds. They are part of a larger group of compounds known as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

These man-made chemicals, often called “forever chemicals,” have earned their fame because they are resistant to both lipids and water, meaning they do not break down in the environment. Instead they stick around, accumulating in the air, water, and land, and in human and other animal tissues, causing all kinds of health issues, including cancers, developmental problems, and a long list of other terrible effects.

As dangerous as they are, corporations continue to manufacture products using PFOA and PFOS at striking levels. They can be found in nearly every household in the United States. In the 1950s, these chemicals changed the way we cook and live. DuPont used them to create Teflon, and they were also used in a large number of products to make them stain-resistant, waterproof, and non-stick. Unfortunately, by the 1970s, huge amounts of industrial waste containing PFAS had already found its way into wetlands and waterways.

Nearly every human on earth has been exposed to PFOS and PFOA. In 2016, PFOA and PFOS was found in one percent of samples from public drinking water across the country. That same year, the EPA issued health advisories for PFOS and PFOA in drinking water systems, but it does not regulate these chemicals in drinking water. Only the state of New Jersey has established a legal limit for PFOA.

Health Impacts of PFOA and PFOS Exposure

The EPA has suggested that exposure above certain thresholds of PFOA and PFOS may cause the following:

  • Developmental effects
  • Numerous cancers
  • Liver damage
  • Immune disorders
  • Thyroid imbalance
  • Cardiovascular problems

The Future of PFAS Use

Many companies have begun phasing out PFOS, PFOA, and other related PFAS compounds due to their environmental effects. For many people and for the environment, this may be too little too late.

Other Industrial Waste Chemicals that Pollute Water

It’s head-spinning to think about all of the industrial waste chemicals that have polluted water in the past, as well as the toxins that continue to flow into it.

  • More than four decades ago, in Ringwood, New Jersey, more than 35,000 tons of paint sludge was dumped onto tribal lands by Ford Motor Co. The land and groundwater, owed and used by the Turtle Clan of the Ramapough Lenape tribe, is still poisoned with arsenic, lead and other harmful chemicals.
  • For decades in Picher, Oklahoma, lead and zinc mining contaminated an aquifer with lead and heavy metals. These toxins made their way to streams, lakes and a large groundwater aquifer and still pose health threats for nearby communities.
  • In North Carolina, coal-fired power plants have contaminated drinking water with chromium-6 and other chemicals. Nearly 1,000 households now have to use bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing their teeth.

While corporations that pollute provide millions of jobs, products, and services, they are also responsible for harming millions of people and destroying an increasing number of habitats worldwide.

Cities, counties, states, water districts, small businesses, and agricultural operations bear the brunt of the cost of mitigating the damage and safely removing these pollutants. The costs are often devastating.

Frazer Onder Environmental Law stands up to corporations that pollute our water. We believe those who cause industrial pollution should be the ones who pay for it, and we’ve got the resources, knowledge, and experience to make sure they pay.

Call Frazer Onder Environmental Law at 800-881-0939. Together, we are leaving a lasting legacy, and a planet safe for generations to come.