Toxic fashion on the current cover of Newsweek? There’s enough pieces to this writer’s investigative fashion puzzle to give pretty much anyone pause.
“A 2007 study by a local nongovernmental organization found that Tirupur’s 729 dyeing units were flushing 23 million gallons per day of mostly untreated wastewater into the Noyyal River, the majority of which collected in the Orathupalayam Dam reservoir. When officials finally flushed the dam in the mid-2000s, 400 tons of dead fish were found at the bottom.”
“P.N. Shamuhasundar runs Mastro Colours, a small hosiery dyer on Tirupur’s outskirts. The state government gave him and about 20 other dyers a $4 million, no-interest loan to overhaul and modernize their shared effluent treatment plant. Mastro is now certified as having “zero liquid discharge,” but the extra cost of treating and evaporating that liquid waste (instead of just dumping it into the river) means it can’t compete with polluting dyers.
Prithviraj believes American consumers are complicit here. “We feel that selling a T-shirt for $10 is a sin,” he says. “Is it fair Wal-Mart makes $8 off a T-shirt and gives nothing to the labor, nothing to the environment?”
Shipping records provided by Datamyne, which tracks import-export transactions in the Americas, show that between 2007 and 2011, Wal-Mart’ s orders increased from Tirupur clothing companies who dyed garments in defiance of the court-ordered shutdown. Take Balu Exports, for example. On its website, the company describes itself as a “vertical set-up under one roof.” Two of its divisions, Balu Process and Balu Exports Dyeing, are members of the Dyers Association of Tirupur. And since 2007, the association has operated in contempt of India’s Supreme Court order to reach zero discharge.”
“Meanwhile, illegal dyeing units continue to surface regularly. “Some of the new dyeing factories are coming up in other river basins and even in the coastal areas,” says Prithviraj. He mentions Cuddalore, an ancient seaport town about 200 miles east, where chemical pollution in some areas has already raised the risk that residents will contract cancer in their lifetimes at least 2,000 times that of the average person.
Even if all the polluting ceased immediately, the damage is already done; it might be impossible to clean and regenerate the Noyyal River and the soil along its basin, says Prithviraj. “We’d have to turn back the clock 20 years.”