Poll: Water Pollution Americans' Top Environmental Concern

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Among six environmental harms people are most worried about, polluted drinking water and lakes and rivers continually rank high on an annual Gallup survey.

When it comes to the top six environmental problems facing the country, Americans remain most concerned about one immediate and long-term issue, according to Gallup's annual environment survey. For the past 20 years, worries about polluted water -- both drinking water and bodies of water -- have ranked at the top of the list, although concern has lessened over that time period, the data shows.

The poll indicates that 56% of those surveyed have a great deal of concern about polluted drinking water. Two out of 10 say they had a “fair amount of worry,” while 12% have “only a little worry” and 7% had “not at all concern” about polluted drinking water.

Polluted rivers, lakes and reservoirs is another problem respondents showed the most worry about. Half of those polled say they have a great deal of concern about the pollution in bodies of water, a third say they have a fair amount of worry, while 17% have little to no worries about pollution in waterways.  

When it comes to the loss of tropical rainforests, 45% of those surveyed reported a great deal of worry about that issue. In addition, 43% of respondents worry most about global warming and climate change and 41% have plenty of concern about air pollution. Meanwhile, four in 10 have a great deal of concern over the extinction of plant and animal species. 

These findings, from Gallup's annual environment survey conducted March 1-15, are the firm’s latest data points in at least two decades of tracking concerns about environmental problems, including annual updates every year since 2000 (except 2005).

Nevertheless, since 2000, Americans “great concern” about the aforementioned threats has decreased. Among the six problems, water saw the biggest drop in concern this year. Worry about polluted drinking water dropped from 72% in 2000 to 56% in 2021 and concern about polluted bodies of water dipped by 13 percentage points. 

This poll comes as more states battle contaminated drinking water problems. Lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan spread awareness to the general public about the harmful effects of polluted water. Michigan last August agreed to pay $600 million to Flint residents affected by the city’s years-long water crisis, as part of a settlement to resolve a number of civil lawsuits.

Results for the Gallup survey are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,010 people 18 years or older living in the U.S. To see more about the survey click here

Brent Woodie is an associate editor at Route Fifty.

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