Latest update: 10/09/2010
Your clothes true colours
ENVIRONMENT dips into dyes to look at the true colours of our clothes. Travelling to cowboy city in China where a devil in blue jeans has turned Pearl River a worrying shade of indigo, and to India where cotton fields are poisoning farmers and turning children’s hair grey.
Chinese people call it “Cowboy city.” That is because the 1500 factories of Xintang are only focused on one product: jeans. Every year 200 million pairs leave this city for stores throughout the globe. A gold mine for the local economy but a disaster for its rivers, turning them a strange shade of blue. The blue jean industry isn't the only one responsible here. But experts say if blame is to be placed; a lot of it should fall on them.
“A big part of this pollution comes from the textile factories, upstream. The problem comes from the dye. Some small factories release small amounts of waste waster, but multiplied by the number of factories, the result is very big,” says Li Kun, a specialist of Water Resources and Environment at the University of Guangzhou.
Pollutants sometimes spill over into the streets when violent rains fall. This causes the chemicals to overflow. As a result of public pressure, the government is trying to consolidate all the companies into one industrial zone and forcing them to treat their waste.
It's almost impossible to verify what impact this pollution has on human health. No serious studies have been conducted. The rare independent analysis reveals organic pollutants and heavy metals, but without precise data. So people make their own diagnoses based on breathing problems birth defects and skin rashes, or worse.
Across in India, it’s the production of cotton that is causing health worries. In October last year scientists met in Geneva to discuss a worldwide ban on endosulfan - a toxic pesticide banned in more than sixty countries. India is against banning it. For India endosulfan is big money but several studies say it could be linked to serious health problems. “We use alot of spray on our crops. Because of it my eyesight's worse, I'm scared of losing it. My father was a farmer, he died of cancer in 2006 we think it’s because of this,” notes Rajpardeep Singh a cotton farmer in the Punjab region.
It's not just adults' health which is cause for concern. At the local school in the village of Jijjal young heads are already sprinkled with grey hair. Which according to Surinder Singh of the Agricultural Heritage Organisation, is a direct result of the pesticides used.
There is a very big lobby of pesticides’ in India. It doesn't want to ban certain pesticides because it’s a big part of the country’s economy. India's the world's largest producer and user of endosulfan. The pesticide brings in one hundred and fifty million dollars a year in exports to scores of countries in Africa and Asia.