Dye Me A River
Tehuacan Mexico is known as the "heartland of Mexico's denim industry," a heart that sometimes launders enough jeans to bleed blue dye and bleach into rivers used to irrigate corn fields. And, no, this is not how blue corn tortillas came about. As reported in a PlanetArk story, "Dozens of industrial laundries, some of which put the finishing touches to jeans for export, discharge a cocktail of bleach, dye and detergents into Tehuacan's wide valley with almost no government controls, residents say...Water from the denim laundries runs through Tehuacan, where it mixes with municipal sewage and is discharged untreated in a foaming green torrent to a river that feeds irrigation systems in the downstream village of San Diego Chalma." Historically, this problem is not unique. While USEPA was first promulgating industrial wastewater effluent standards...back in the old days when jeans were made in the US, from start to finish... the same thing likely happened. Toilet paper making and beet processing too. For example, those who recall the days of "avacado green" floral scented toilet paper sold in the US might also recall the green discharges that sometimes resulted. Sugar beets: self explanatory.Getting back to Mexico:- Health authorities were reported to have advised against irrigating tomatoes and root vegetables with the blue-green water because of a risk of contamination. "But corn is permitted and is sold locally and to buyers from Mexico City...Industry leaders in Tehuacan blame most of the pollution on the dozens of small unregulated laundries that wash, bleach and dye jeans for Mexican brands. "We all know Mexican firms demand less than the international brands," said Javier Lopez, spokesman for the city's industry chamber."
Two points in closing.
Fair labor conditions are a worthy goal, as long as sensible environmental standards are simultaneously considered. (It makes not a whit of difference whether the cotton is organic if the processing would be done as sloppily as is alleged in this story.) Thus, it's a bit disconcerting to see the near fad level of market attention lavished on "fair trade" clothing brands.
If this situation is characteristic of the textile industry in developing nations, then the best hope for shoppers wanting to buy clothing made right on both counts would be to identify the major international corporations that enforce both environmental and fair labor standards. We say this with the supposition that small scale retailers are simply not in a position to drive such performance standards. It grates on some of our readers when we too frequently sing the praises of large corporations; but, how else can we customers help un-dye a river?