CNN Clean Water for People

Asian rivers are turning black. And our colorful closets are to blame

Textile dyeing is one of the most polluting aspects of the global fashion industry, devastating the environment and posing health hazards to humans.

When Haji Muhammad Abdus Salam looks across the trash-filled river near his home in one of Dhaka’s major garment manufacturing districts, he remembers a time before the factories moved in.”When I was young there were no garment factories here. We used to grow crops and loved to catch different kinds of fish. The atmosphere was very nice,” he said from Savar, just north of the Bangladesh capital.The river beside him is now black like an ink stain. Abdus Salam said waste from nearby garment factories and dye houses has polluted the water.”There are no fish now,” he said. “The water is so polluted that our children and grandchildren cannot have the same experience.”

Bangladesh is the world’s second biggest garment manufacturing hub after China, exporting $34 billion worth of garments in 2019. And clothes made, dyed and finished in the country often end up in main street shops across the United States and Europe.But as consumers browse through the season’s latest color trends, few will spare much thought to the dyes used to create everything from soft pastels to fluorescent hues — or their toxic history.Fashion is responsible for up to one-fifth of industrial water pollution, thanks in part to weak regulation and enforcement in producer countries like Bangladesh, where wastewater is commonly dumped directly into rivers and streams. The discharge is often a cocktail of carcinogenic chemicals, dyes, salts and heavy metals that not only hurt the environment, but pollute essential drinking water sources.Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said it was “striving towards minimizing the negative effect on environment from the largest export generating sectors including ready-made garments and textiles.”Minister Shahab Uddin said in a statement e-mailed to CNN that a range of measures were being taken to address pollution, including updating conservation and environmental laws, imposing fines on polluters, monitoring water quality, setting up centralized treatment plants, and working with international development partners to improve wastewater treatment.”Monitoring and enforcement activities … are playing a vital role in combating the pollution caused by illegal polluting industries. We have a policy and legal framework in place to address the environmental pollution issues of the country,” he said.

Ridwanul Haque, chief executive of the Dhaka-based NGO Agroho, called toxic chemical pollution a “huge problem in a country like Bangladesh.” Haque, whose organization provides clean drinking water and free medical care to marginalized communities, said the rivers and canals that run through Dhaka have turned a “pitch black color” due to the sludge and sewage produced by textile dyeing and processing factories. The water is “very thick … like tar,” and during the winter — when monsoon rain no longer dilutes the wastewater — “you can smell it,” he said.One 55-year-old, who has lived in Savar for the past 18 years and didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said the polluted waterways are a risk to his family’s health.”The kids get sick if they stay here,” he said, adding that his two children and grandson are unable to live with him “because of the water.”

Read the full article on CNN here.

Source: CNN. Written by Helen Regan.