When did you live there?
In general, highly toxic pollution was common in some areas, but only during the 1950’s and possibly the early 1960’s. After that, rivers were still polluted, but the pollution was almost entirely removed from ordinary people’s environments. So since the 1960’s, all you had to do was make sure you didn’t swim in the river Rhine for too long, and certainly didn’t drink its water.
The only notable exception was the lead in gasoline, which wasn’t removed until much, much later.
Other kinds of pollution, amongst which mercury, only prevailed in soms third-world countries.
Now maybe the USA was much, much worse in the sense of protecting the population against industrial pollution – anyhow, the above is the situation in the developed world. I can imagine the USA being a few years behind in matters like this, but not decades.