Tannery, Polluted River and Health
(© the Ecologist : Hell for Leather: the toxic trade in leather from Bangladesh to EU)
Buriganga River runs through the heart of Dhaka, Bangladesh. 240 million dollars worth of leather is exported from Bangladesh each year. Much of it is sent to Europe, which is made into bags, belts and shoes for high street shops. However, tanneries in Dhaka supply much of those leather are killing the river and poisoning people live and work nearby.
"We always see the river as our mother, but they use the river here as drain. And they dump industrial waste, all rubbish in the river. So there are no fish, no animals in the river. It's unsafe to use this river's water."
Bangladeshi scientists estimated that one million people could be affected by the chemicals in Hazaribagh, from washing in the river and eating food contaminated with the polluted water. Symptoms include chronic breathing difficulties, skin diseases, and internal organ damage.
They use around 50 tons of chemicals a day. All of the effluent is released into drains without any kind of treatment.
Research carried out by the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD) has found that most tannery workers in Dhaka suffer from chemical-related diseases. It estimates that 90% of them will be dead by the age of 50.
Workers without gloves or shoes.
Tannery owner claims that chemicals are safe because they are European.
"All chemicals we buy from European origins. It is a assurance that they are not problem for the environment or health hazard."
～Tipu Sultan・Head of Tannery Association～
Mazakat Harun is the Managing Director of Chemitan Ltd, a company that sells tannery products manufactured by Clariant in Yorkshire. Harun estimates that about up to 20% of chemicals used in Hazaribagh are made by Clariant. And he believes that these chemicals are safe.
"Eco-friendly. All of them are eco-friendly. We never tested whether they are eco-friendly or not, but they are eco-friendly according to safety data sheet from the literature."
～Mazakat Harun・Managing Director of Chemitan Ltd～
Experts in the U.K., however, suggest otherwise.
"SAFE is if you understand all the instructions, and you implement all the instructions on all those chemicals that you are using. And then even if chemical on its own might be safe, mixture of those chemicals might be making very nasty toxic cocktail."
～Elizabeth Salter Green・CHEM TRUST～
"Essentially what you do once you release the mixture of chemicals like that is that you are emptying Pandora's Box into outside environment. And it's really almost impossible to predict exactly what is going to happen."
～Dr Paul Johnnston・Greenpeace Research Lab～
According to Harun's estimate, Clariant sells five to ten tons of tanning chemicals in Hazaribagh every day. However, Clariant declined to comment on the problems in Hazaribagh, and to provide any information regarding the safety or the composition of the products that they export to Bangladesh.
For the past seven years, the government has planned to move the tanneries to a new site outside of Dhaka, But only 1 out of 100 planned buildings started construction. And later, the government announced that this relocation scheme has been postponed indefinitely.
Cheap goods are dream come true for consumers in the west. But for now the nightmare stays in Hazaribagh, Bangladesh.