Pollution Events & Sources Summary

Oil spills and toxic contamination are environmental risks we live with as Galveston Bay’s local economy benefits from shipping and industrial activity. Galveston Bay has a long history of industrial activity. While much of this activity occurred before environmental regulations existed to control the release of pollution into the environment, industrial activities still result in the release of pollutants in Galveston Bay where they are predominantly found in the Bay’s sediment. Despite the consequences of toxics and trash polluting the Bay, these two issues continue to be inadequately monitored and difficult to correct.

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What We Can do

Back the Bay by Keeping it Clean

  • Urge local officials to prioritize the cleanup and preservation of the Bay.
  • Report pollution using the Galveston Bay Action Network. Reports are sent directly to the appropriate authorities – no researching to find out where to send your concerns!
  • Dispose of your trash properly.

Toxins in Sediment

Toxic chemicals pose a threat to our health and the health of the Bay and have led to the establishment of Seafood Consumption Advisories. Monitoring programs gather data describing toxins in sediments of Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel, where elevated concentrations of metals such as mercury, and organic compounds such as PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are found in the sediment. In 2020, organic toxin levels in the Houston Ship Channel remained a B. The most common organic toxins found in sediments of the Houston Ship Channel is now Acenaphthylene, a [define text= “A polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon”] PAH, . and [define text="Polychlorinated biphenyls, a class of organic pollutants banned from production in the US in 1979. Used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment because they do not burn easily and are good insulators. PCBs persist in the environment from contamination that largely occurred in the past."] PCBs, although their concentrations in the sediments of the Houston Ship Channel have improved. The most commonly found inorganic metal in the sediments of the Houston Ship Channel continues to be [define text= “Mercury is one of the most common pollutants in our nation’s waters. Air emissions from coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury in the environment.”]Mercury. While concentrations increased a bit in 2020, the number of samples collected in the Houston Ship Channel remains low.

Toxic Metals
Organic Toxins
Galveston Bay
Grade A
Grade A
Grade I
Houston Ship Channel
Grade B
Grade C
Grade D

Dioxins in the Houston Ship Channel, are monitored as part of the San Jacinto Waste Pit superfund site, but there are not enough data to assess a grade for dioxins in Galveston Bay. Therefore Dioxins in Galveston Bay received a grade of “Incomplete”. The danger of legacy pollutants such as PCBs and dioxins is they can persist in the sediments for decades and can move into the Bay food web.

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Houston Ship Channel Organic Toxics

Did you know Organic Toxics can be found in everyday motor oil, pesticides and household products?

Houston Ship Channel Inorganic Metals

Long lasting toxic metals can pose a threat to human and environmental health

What We Can do

Don’t Leave a Toxic Legacy


Galveston Bay Sediment Toxic Content

Oil Spills

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Total Volume of Oil Spilled (2006-2020)

See how the total volume of oil spilled in Galveston Bay compares between 2014 and 2017

Total Number of Oil Spills (2006-2020)

Which accounts for a higher number of oil spills facilities or vessels?

What We Can do

Keep Oil Out


Total Number of Spills


Total Volume of Spills

Litter and Trash

Trash is an abundant pollutant in the Bay. Plastics are particularly harmful to animals that ingest them, causing malnutrition, toxic exposure, and even death. Although litter and trash are widely identified as serious problems for Galveston Bay and its tributaries, there is no systematic Bay-wide monitoring to reduce this kind of pollution. Assessments determining litter introduction pathways and hotspots along Bay and bayou shorelines could go a long to determining best practices to reduce future litter pollution.

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Litter and Trash

Three Litter and trash priority strategies for a cleaner Bay

Litter and Trash Locations and Cleanups

Click to learn more about Litter and Trash

What We Can do

Reducing Litter Starts in Your Neighborhood

  • Secure your trash and pick up litter when you see it. Teach your children to do it too.
  • Report litter online using the Galveston Bay Action Network. Reporting pollution, whether deliberate or accidental, to the proper authority can help protect Galveston Bay.
  • Join or start a movement to ban single-use plastic bags.
  • Organize a cleanup for your neighborhood, local park, stream, or shoreline.
  • Use reusable bags and create or join partnerships to find best practices to reduce litter pollution.

Galveston Bay Litter and Trash


Rivers and Bayous Grade

No one likes to see trash in their own backyard, so why in the Bay?

Want more? Check the grades on other Indicators.

Water Quality
Pollution Events & Sources
Human Health Risk
Coastal Change