Water

Exposure to Chemicals Used in Jeans Dyeing Units Can Affect Human Health, Says Government

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by Vishwa Mohan

Representative image.
New Delhi: The government on Tuesday told the Lok Sabha that the exposure to chemicals used in textile dyeing units can affect human health and the civic authorities would take action against any such industries operating in residential areas in the Capital.
Responding to a Parliament question on illegal jeans dyeing units in the north-east Delhi’s Shiv Vihar areas, reported by the TOI in May, the Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan said, “Whenever any unit operating illegally is brought to the notice of State Pollution Control Board/Pollution Control Committees, action as per rules is required to be taken for closing of such industries”.

The minister, in his written response, admitted that it does not have count of such illegal units in residential areas in the country, including inventory of such units in Delhi.

He said no inventorization of jeans dyeing factories operating illegally in residential areas had been undertaken by the environment ministry or the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

The minister noted that the textile dyeing has been categorized as ‘Red’ category (highly polluting) industry which is required to obtain consent to establish/operate from concerned State Pollution Control Board or the Pollution Control Committee.

The TOI had in May reported about discharge of carcinogenic chemicals by cloth dyeing units, highlighting how the untreated effluents are even contaminating ground water which is the main source of drinking water in the area.

Responding to a question on the steps being taken by the government to check the pollution caused by dyeing factories, Harsh Vardhan said the Delhi government had directed that action would be taken by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) against industries operating in residential/non-conforming areas in violation of the Master Plan of Delhi.”In order to check pollution from dyeing industries, effluent standards for textile sectors have been notified under the provision of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 which has prescribed standards for Chromium, Phenolic Compounds, Colour etc”, he said while admitting that the exposure to these chemicals, exceeding prescribed limit, can affect human health.

Taking suomotu cognisance of the TOI’s report, the Delhi High Court had earlier asked the CBI to probe the entire issue of the illegal jeans dyeing units and find out the complicity of officials, if any, in allowing such units in those residential areas. The CBI subsequently started its probe after registering a case on last Friday.

Acting on the TOI report, even the Union water resources ministry had in May directed the city health department to conduct a detailed study on the health impact of the dyeing units operating in the Mustafabad locality of north-east Delhi and extent of ground water contamination in the area, if any, due to these industrial units.
*This story first appeared on Times of India

Natural Dye Garden Promotes a Greener Fashion Supply Chain

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Denise Green, assistant professor of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, in front of the newly relocated natural dye garden in the courtyard between Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and the Human Ecology Building.

College of Human Ecology faculty and student efforts to advance sustainable approaches to textile and fashion design has led to the development of the Cornell Natural Dye Garden after a successful crowdfunding campaign that ended in fall 2016.

The project raised $10,365 for the development and cultivation of a dye garden, which will produce a variety of colors that come from the natural world and have a lower environmental impact.

“We know that synthetic dyes cause incredible environmental harm and pollute waterways. Human health is also impacted, particularly for laborers in the textile dyeing industries,” said Denise Green, assistant professor of fiber science and apparel design.

According to organizers, up to 200,000 tons of synthetic dyes are discharged into waterways around the globe every year, making textile dye plants the second-largest polluter of water after agriculture.

In many developing nations where textiles are produced, workers may not be properly protected from the toxic chemicals used to dye fibers and fabrics, making synthetic dyes hazardous to environmental and human health, Green said.

In contrast, natural dyes, some of which come from weeds, are nontoxic. Some of these dye plants have the ability to grow aggressively without herbicides or fungicides.

“We believe natural dyes are an opportunity to make a sustainable intervention in the apparel supply chain,” Green said.

In May 2015, Green, in collaboration with fellow fiber science and apparel design faculty and students, as well as Human Ecology Facilities Services and Cornell Botanic Gardens staff, planted a test garden of natural dye plants at the northeast corner of the Human Ecology Building overlooking Beebe Lake.

“That success led us to the idea to put the garden in a place that’s more accessible for students and more visible in terms of our college life,” Green said.

In spring 2016, Green and her students moved the garden to a plot located in the courtyard between Martha Van Rensselaer Hall and the Human Ecology Building. The relocation of the garden, according to Green, allows students and faculty to grow a wider array of dye plants to be used in teaching and research.

“The new location is highly visible,” Green said, adding that plans are in place to add educational signage for the 2017 growing season.

“Signage means that the garden won’t just be beautiful to look at, and valuable as a natural dye resource, but it will also be an opportunity to educate students, staff and the public about the plants we are growing and the range of colors they yield,” she said.

Beyond working on projects, Green hopes the garden will have deep and long-lasting impacts on fiber science and apparel design students who begin careers in the manufacturing and fashion industries.

“Our hope is they become conscientious citizens of the world who think about the impact that their design will have on the environment, on human health and on many people, which we don’t often think about when we consume fashion,” Green said.

*This story first appeared on Cornell News

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By Debra Tan

Although we have had our suspicions about this, there wasn’t really a link; until now. An interesting piece of research on “Groundwater depletion embedded in international food trade” was just published in Nature on 30 March 2017. The paper warns of alarming rates of worldwide groundwater depletion (GWD) due to irrigation withdrawals. Estimates are that around 11% of non-renewable groundwater is embedded in the International food trade.

What has this got to do with fashion? Well, the title of the Nature paper is somewhat misleading: it should have said “Groundwater depletion embedded in crop trade” not “food trade”. A deeper dive into the results shows that some of this over-abstraction was down to the cotton crop.

Cotton is a Top 5 crop leading to the most groundwater depletion globally

Cotton was amongst the Top 5 crops leading to the most depletion globally – wheat (22% of global GWD), rice (17%), sugar crops (7%), cotton (7%) and maize (5%). That said, the trade in cotton alone accounted for 11% of global GWD transfers, with rice topping the list at 29%, followed by wheat at 12%. Maize and soybean are more water efficient crops, only representing 4% and 3% respectively.

Groundwater Depletion (GWD) is defined as …
“the volume of groundwater that is abstracted for irrigation use in excess of the national recharge rate and irrigation return flow, accounting for environmental flow requirements, and thus corresponds to an unsustainable use of groundwater for crop production”

Groundwater Depletion in Crop Production & Trade (2)

Who’s sucking up whose aquifers?

A glance at chart below indicates that Pakistan, USA and India are exporting GWD through trade. These three are the largest exporters of GWD, accounting for two-thirds of all GWD embedded in the crop trade.

Global GWD Transfers in the Crop Trade

Cotton drives USA’s GWD exports and is a quarter of India’s GWD exports …

Rice leads Pakistan’s GWD exports at 82% – mostly to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Kenya. Cotton, however, drives USA’s GWD exports at 24%, followed by wheat (16%) and maize (10%) to China, Mexico and Japan. Meanwhile, for India (#3 GWD exporter), nearly half of the over-abstraction is caused by rice (25%) and cotton (24%).

… Almost half of China’s GWD imports are from cotton

In short, cotton accounts for a sizeable amount of GWD exports by USA and India. So who’s this cotton going to? It appears that the beneficiary is China; almost half of China’s GWD imports are from cotton, whereas soybean, which China does import a lot of, only accounts for 14% of GWD imports.

From the research, it appears that demand from China along with USA, Mexico and Iran are sucking up other people’s aquifers.  But before we start blaming China, the truth is that China is not the only end user of its cotton imports. Clothing & Textiles form the largest chunk of its industrial virtual exports – see chart below.

But China is not the only end user of its cotton imports…

… Clothing & Textiles form the largest chunk of its industrial virtual exports

China Net Virtual water Export (1)

In fact, China makes so much stuff for the rest of the world that it is a net virtual water exporter despite its agricultural imports. So what is really driving demand for cotton in China?

Zara, H&M and Uniqlo et al ultimately driving China’s cotton appetite?

China only began seriously to import cotton in the early 2000’s. We argue that this increase in appetite for cotton imports is driven by the meteoric rise of its manufacturing prowess for fast fashion.

Cotton appetite in China rises in tandem with store openings of fast fashion brands …

The chart below says it all – cotton appetite in (imports & domestic production) China rising in tandem with store openings of Inditex (which owns Zara), H&M and Fast Retailing (FR – which owns Uniqlo). Of course these three brands are not the only ones to blame; there has also been a similar explosion of stores in Target, Walmart, M&S stores in the same period. And let’s not forget the stellar rise of on-line shopping. However, since it is difficult to pin down which store is just a clothing/ food store, we used store openings of the three clothing brands for illustrative purposes.

1992-2015 china's appetite for cotton driven by fast fashion

The pursuit of the lowest price 

With fast fashion driving the search for the cheapest prices in the supply chain, the price differential between domestic and international cotton drove China to import cotton.

China’s biggest trade partner has traditionally been the USA. But in 2011, cheaper cotton and shorter transportation times from India meant that the country overtook the USA to become China’s biggest trade partner for cotton. Today, the Top 5 cotton nations that China is importing cotton from are: India, USA, Australia, Uzbekistan and Brazil.

Meanwhile, China’s homegrown cotton storage stockpiled to over 12 million tonnes by 2013-2014. Since then, China has reduced incentives to farm cotton in the parched North China Plain. So while China’s own cotton production and imports fell in 2014, global production was still on the rise. As can be seen from the chart below, global production of cotton has been only rising markedly over the last decade.

Global cotton production on the rise

 The last decade has seen global GWD in crop production increase by 22%

An increase in global crop production has an impact on groundwater. Over the last decade, global GWD in crop production has increased by 22%, with the biggest deterioration from China (102%), India (23%) and USA (31%). The paper published in Nature warns USA, Mexico, Iran and China are particularly exposed as they produce as well as import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers, including those in NW India, the North China Plain, central USA & California.

Given that China’s largest trading partners for cotton are India and USA, we can broadly say that the likes of Zara, H&M and Uniqlo, or anyone else in fast fashion selling cotton products are causing groundwater over-extraction in USA India and even in China, which itself grows a quarter of the world’s cotton.

Wasting resources

So more stores = more stock and as four-season fashion moved to 52-week fast fashion, global cotton production also grew. So actually, we are depleting our aquifers globally for something we don’t eat. Also, why are we growing virgin cotton when we can recycle? Worse still, the business model of fast fashion is premised on encouraging us to throw away the garment after one week of use, if we are going by 52-week fashion.

Not only is cotton sucking some areas dry, it also causes groundwater pollution

And if that is not enough, let’s not forget that the cotton crop is also dirty, sucking up significant amounts of global insecticides and pesticides. So not only is cotton sucking some areas dry, it also causes groundwater pollution, which in turn exacerbates scarcity. In China, the over-abstracted North China Plain, where a quarter of China’s cotton is grown, faces severe pollution: >70% groundwater is unfit for human touch.

Most brands are only visibly dealing with the “dirty” part of the crop. Many of the more responsible brands can tell you how much of their cotton is organic or ‘Better Cotton’. However, we are not aware of any major high street fast fashion brand that discloses just how much cotton they have sourced from where. Sucking aquifers dry in countries that are already facing water stress is clearly not a priority for action.

7 of the Top 10 cotton producing countries face medium to extremely high water stress…

… yet brands do not disclose how much cotton they have sourced from where

2014 Top 10 Cotton Producing Countries & Water Stress

Where & when does this stop?

For cotton, the answer is staring us in the face: switch to slow & more expensive and durable fashion that reflect the scarcity and polluting nature of fashion raw materials; switch to recycled cotton; or, better still, switch to hemp. Brands: surely it’s time to invest in any and/or all of these changes and not wait until the aquifers in USA, China, Pakistan and India are sucked dry. Too far-fetched? Think of what cotton-growing did to the Aral Sea: a volume loss of ~70% between 1960-2000 due to water diverted to grow cotton in the desert.

cotton tshirtWho should be held accountable? Governments, brands or the consumers?

Fashionistas, it is also time to face up to the ugly truth. You are partly to blame for over-extraction of groundwater. The frivolity of throw away fashion means that you are only beautiful on the outside.

Ultimately, we are all to blame. Almost everyone will have at least one cotton T-shirt in their wardrobe. If this makes you, the consumer, feel uncomfortable, start demanding your favourite brand to (1) tell you where it sources its cotton and (2) guarantee that it is not causing groundwater depletion.

*This story first appeared on China Water Risk

Pollution Control Board to Monitor 27 More Sites

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In a bid to check the water quality, the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) has enhanced its monitoring locations from the earlier 104 sites across the state to 131.The move has been initiated as per the National Water Monitoring Programme undertaken by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) which has notified sampling and analysis procedures for these sites.The board is supposed to undertake the monthly monitoring of water quality with effect from March. Information will be duly uploaded on the board’s site. The CPCB is directly monitoring the water and air quality undertaken by the state board at these sites.

Out of the 27 new sites, three pertain to the Nalagarh industrial area on the Chikni river where the presence of textile units has become a cause of concern for the board. Two other sites at the Giri river and Surajmukhi Nullah in Solan will also be monitored henceforth. Four sites in Una district, including the one upstream of the Swan river, will be monitored. Barely one site in Kangra district on the Beas has been included in the new arrangement while maximum of six sites in Sirmaur district, including the Giri river, Salani Nullah, two sites along the Markanda river, Rampur Jattan Moginand Nullah and Roon Nullah. Besides, three sites in Kullu, three in Kinnaur and two in Chamba have been included for water monitoring.

With no staff enhancement in the four laboratories of the board which were operating at Parwanoo, Jasur, Sundernagar and Paonta Sahib, the staff will face an added challenge of analysing water samples from 31 new locations.Despite the Central Pollution Control Board having directed the SPCB to upgrade its Parwanoo lab as per the specifications of the National Accreditation Board of Calibration and Testing of Laboratories (NABL) within 90 days in October 2015, it is yet to meet these standards. The board is yet to enhance its staff and upgrade its equipment as per the NABL norms.

Member Secretary, SPCB, Sanjay Sood, said they would soon appoint more staff as certain posts were vacant and the process to procure requisite equipment was also under way.He said the process of meeting NABL specifications for the Parwanoo lab was in progress and would be completed in the coming months. Sood said in addition to the 131 Centrally-monitored sites for water pollution, there were 157 state-monitored sites too where they were keeping a check on the quality of surface water.

*This story first appeared on The Tribune India

Pali Textile Units Pollute Bandi River Despite NGT Stay

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By Dinesh Bothra

polluted-bandi-river-in-pali-photo-ht_3291eebe-0bd1-11e7-ba13-f6aef3964879
Effluents from textile units in Rajasthan’s Pali district pollute the Bandi river.(HT Photo)

Textile units in Pali city continue to release polluted water into the Bandi river, violating a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order staying their operation.

On October 3 last year, the NGT stayed the operation of about 800 textile units after environmentalists moved the tribunal over pollution of the Bandi river.

The water resources department recently exposed secret operation of some units. In a letter to the regional officer of the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board on March 17, executive engineer Ramnarayan Chaudhary said some textile units in Pali were releasing polluted water into the Bandi, a seasonal river of western Rajasthan.

The river water is stored in Nehda dam, about 40km from Pali city. Choudhary said, “Chemical water is reaching the Nehda dam through Bandi river.”

The dam remains filled to its full capacity though water stored during the rainy season was released for irrigation. “This makes it clear that water released from textile units in Pali is reaching the dam,” Choudhary said.

The water resources department tested the water quality. “The water in the dam is of no use for consumption and irrigation as its quality has deteriorated,” the executive engineer said. “Closure of textile units is just an eyewash.”

The quality test reports are stunning, said Mahaveer Singh Sukarlai, an environmentalist who went to the NGT over Bandi river pollution.

“The TDS (total dissolved solids) of the water stored in the dam after the rain was recorded at 560 PPM (parts per million); it has now risen to 2950. The electrical conductivity of the water has increased to 6.3 from 1.7,” Sukarlai said.

Around 200 million cubic feet of water has been polluted though the state government focuses on Mukhya Mantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan, environmentalists said.

Rajeev Pareek, regional officer of the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board, said a team has been formed to keep an eye on the operation of textile units.

“Electric and water supply to eight textile units, found violating the NGT order, was snapped. Twelve more such units would be deprived of water and electric connections,” Pareek said.

“Supply of three-phase electricity to the industrial area will be stopped soon so that the textile units cannot operate secretly.”

*This story first appeared on Hindustan Times

Microfibers from Clothes Contaminating Marine Environment

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By Kesavan Unnikrishnan

Studies in Canada show that microfibers used in garments such as yoga pants have become a huge threat to aquatic life. Microfibers made up 95 percent of the plastic pollution in waterways as compared to microbeads which constituted only 5 percent.

fiber-2
Fibers captured on a 20 micron filter. A micron (or micrometer) equals one millionth of a meter (a centimeter is one hundredth of a meter). The fibers were captured by filtering washing machine effluent after washing a Patagonia jacket. The scale in the photo indicates the length of 1,000 microns. Photo: Shreya Sonar, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB. Patagonia

Many of the developed nations have proposed regulations to ban the sale of microbeads in toiletries because of the risk they pose to aquatic and marine environments.

But now it appears that a different type of microplastic is becoming a growing threat to aquatic animals.

Findings of a recent research conducted by scientists from Carleton University, Ontario show that most of the microplastics recovered from the Ottawa River and its tributaries were from microfibers rather than microbeads.

Jesse Vermaire, assistant professor of environmental science, geography and environmental studies at Carleton University said:

What really surprised us is that we found plastic particles in every single water and sediment sample we took, so the plastic was really prevalent in the river system. As much as 95 per cent of the plastic in the water samples collected by Vermaire and the Ottawa Riverkeepers was made up of microfibers. Around five per cent of the plastic was made up of micobeads. A lot of them are coming from synthetic clothing.

Yoga pants, fleece-type jackets, athletic wear and other garments made from synthetic materials contain microscopic plastic fibers — called “microfibers”. Every time you run your washing machine, hundreds of thousands of microfibers are flushed down the drain into natural waterways, eventually reaching the sea and into the food chain.

Ingesting microplastics over a period of time makes animals feel full, meaning many later die of starvation.

Some companies have already started to suggest interim solutions, such as washing synthetics less or capturing the fibers with filters, But a larger, systemic solution, such as new fabric formulations can only be a permanent solution.

*This story first appeared on Digital Journal

China Using Electron Beams to Treat Textile Wastewater

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Image Credit: Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute, Tsinghua University, Beijing

Textile dyeing accounts for one fifth of all industrial wastewater pollution generated worldwide and much of it, particularly in developing countries in Asia, goes untreated. Now, China is employing electron beams to treat effluent from textile dyeing plants, ushering in a new era for radiation technology.

“Despite advances in conventional wastewater treatment technology in recent years, radiation remains the only technology that can treat the most stubborn colorants in wastewater,” said Suni Sabharwal, Radiation Processing Specialist at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “The problem is that the technology exists in developed countries, while most of the need now is in the developing world.”

To bridge the knowledge gap, the IAEA ran a coordinated research project on the technology, including its transfer to several countries, mostly in Asia. Chinese researchers, for example, have benefited from the advice of experts from Hungary, Korea and Poland in the adoption of the technology and the construction of the plant, said Jianlong Wang, Deputy Director of the Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute at Tsinghua University in Beijing and the principal researcher behind the project.

The new plant in Jinhua city, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, will treat 1500 cubic meters of wastewater per day, around a sixth of the plant’s output. “If everything goes smoothly, we will be able to roll out technology to the rest of the plant and eventually to other plants across the country,” Wang said.

Before opting for radiation technology using electronic beams, Chinese researchers had run an extensive set of feasibility experiments using the effluent from the plant, comparing electron beam technology with other methods. “Electron beam technology was the clear winner as both the more ecological and more effective option,” Wang added.

Other countries with large textile manufacturing industries, such as India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are also considering introducing the technology with the assistance of the IAEA. India is already using gamma irradiation to treat municipal sewage sludge.

In standard wastewater treatment, bacteria are used to digest and breakdown pollutants. However, the molecules in textile effluent cannot be treated with bacteria. To color textiles, compounds with large, long and complex chains are used. Wastewater from the industry can contain more than 70 complex chemicals that do not easily degrade.

By irradiating the effluent using electron beams, scientists can break these complex chemicals into smaller molecules, which, in turn, can be treated and removed using normal biological processes. Irradiation is done using short-lived reactive radicals than can interact with a wide range of pollutants and break them down.

Chinese researchers are also considering the use of electron beam technology to treat residues from pharmaceutical plants that produce antibiotics. These residues are currently handled as hazardous waste because they contain antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes that cannot be destroyed using conventional technologies, such as composting or oxidation. Research has revealed that electron beam technology can effectively decompose the residual antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes, Wang explained. The establishment of a demonstration plant at an industrial scale is planned for later this year.

*This story first appeared on Sustainable Brands

China’s First Wastewater Plant Using Electron Beams Opens

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Image Courtesy: arieschem.com

World’s leading textile producer China has opened its first ever plant that uses electron beams to treat industrial wastewater in vast textile dyeing industry, ushering in a new era for radiation technology. The new plant in Jinhua city, 300 kilometres south of Shanghai, will treat 1,500 cubic metres of wastewater per day, around a sixth of the plant’s output.

Jianlong Wang, Deputy Director of Nuclear and Energy Technology Institute at Tsinghua University, Beijing and the principal researcher behind the project, commented, “Chinese researchers have benefited from the advice of experts from Hungary, Korea and Poland in the adoption of the technology and the construction of the plant.”

Explaining the technology, Wang elaborated that bacteria are the workhorses of wastewater treatment as they digest and break down pollutants. Wastewater from textile dyeing contains molecules that cannot be treated with bacteria. It can contain more than 70 complex chemicals that do not easily degrade hence to break these complex chemicals into smaller molecules, which, in turn, can be treated and removed using normal biological processes, electron beams are used by irradiating. Irradiation is done using short-lived reactive radicals than can interact with a wide range of pollutants and break them down.

Before opting for radiation technology using electron beams, Chinese researchers had run an extensive set of feasibility experiments using the effluent from the plant, comparing electron beam technology with other methods. “Electron beam technology was the clear winner as both the more ecological and more effective option,” Wang added.

It’s worth mentioning here the textile dyeing accounts for a fifth of all industrial wastewater pollution generated worldwide and lots of wastewater goes untreated.

*This story first appeared on Apparel Resources

Bihar’s Toxic Textile Industry

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By Alok Gupta

The textile industry of Patwa Toli is polluting rivers and groundwater in the Indian state of Bihar, but businesses have failed to clean up their act claiming they provide essential jobs.

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Waste water from dyeing plants flowing into the shallow Falgu river in Bihar, India. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

The weavers of Patwa Toli in the Gaya district of Bihar manufacture two things in bulk: colourful textiles and engineers. While the former is their ancestral trade, the latter is apparently a product of recession.

From a distance Patwa Toli is a riot of colours. Threads of highly toxic red, green and yellow water seeps through the sandy banks slowly weaving itself into the clear waters of the Falgu River, a tributary of the Ganga.

Decades of effluents from dyeing, washing and pressing units have seeped deep into the groundwater of Patwa Toli and the Falgu River. The pollution has become so severe in the last two years that hand pumps in the village started dispensing multi-coloured water which gave off a strong stench, according to a report prepared by Sridhar Updhayay in June 2016, a medical officer of Gaya’s public health department.

The report, which declared the groundwater of Patwa Toli “unfit for human consumption”, was sent to the civil surgeon (a senior doctor, not necessarily a surgeon, appointed by government in a district) for further action. The civil surgeon advised locals to stop drinking water from hand pumps and asked the district administration to bore deeper wells to access clean water. But the work hasn’t started yet.

The poor suffer the most here as they have to drink this severely contaminated water.

Md Shafeeq, local doctor

The Marginalised Suffer the Most

The severe pollution has affected the lives of many local people. Shehnaz Praveen, a housewife, confronts every government official visiting the locality to inspect the pollution that is forcing her to walk for an hour further to fetch drinking water.  “I have to wake up an hour earlier to walk and bring one bucket of fresh water from a nearby locality. Even a glass of this hand pump water makes me and my children sick,” she says.

shehnaz-praveen-alok-gupta

For Shehnaz Praveen, the polluted water is very difficult to avoid. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

Those who cannot spend an extra hour to fetch fresh water often end up at the clinic of Md Shafeeq. The doctor refuses to answer questions about his medical qualifications, but his surgery is crowed with people since he only charges INR 20 per patient (USD 0.30). “Almost everyone in the locality is a victim of water pollution. A majority of people suffer from liver and kidney diseases,” he says.

Wealthy power loom owners avoid these health problems by using water purifiers or buying bottled water, Shafeeq claims. “The poor suffer the most here as they have to drink this severely contaminated water,” he says.

Kaushalendra Narayan, district president of the Swabhiman party, a political party leading the protest against pollution, says that there are nearly 12,000 Muslims living in Pehani, the locality of Patwa Toli. They mostly live in poverty and are the major victims of underground water pollution.

“Hand pumps are the only source of potable water for these families. They do not have financial capacity to buy water or water purifiers,” Narayan claims. Groundwater pollution has not spared the mosque where tap water has turned yellow with a strong stench.

The Swabhiman party sent the medical report to Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) demanding they take action. S Chandrasekar, member secretary of the Board told thethirdpole.net that chemicals from the dyeing and bleaching units of Patwa Toli are extremely dangerous.

“We fear that such unscientific disposal of effluent from dyeing unit might cause irreversible damage to Falgu River and also groundwater of Patwa Toli.”

He also adds, “Naturally present arsenic in the groundwater has further aggravated the groundwater pollution.”

Closure and Unemployment

In response to intensifying protests and massive pollution, the BSPCB directed the Gaya district administration to immediately close all unregistered dyeing and polluting units on June 15 last year.

dyeing-unit
Shutting down dyeing plants has led to mass unemployment. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

With barely 100 registered power looms in Patwatoli, around 12,000 units came to a standstill, leaving nearly 60,000 people out of work. “We have seen many threads of life including recession, struggle and prosperity but we have got through them.

But this time, it’s difficult,” says Gopal Patwa, president of the Bihar Bunkar Kalyan Sangh, an association of weavers. He claims the district administration and pollution board are indulging in coercive measures instead of providing a real solution.

Power loom owners say the industry it is one of the major employment providers in an industry-starved Bihar. Finished textile products from Patwa Toli are sent all over the country with an annual turnover of more than INR 50 million (USD 750,000).

Gopal Patwa says looms owners have been operating in the area for nearly five decades “and no one complained or asked us to treat our wastewater. One fine day, we are asked to close down but we’ve not been taught how to clean our wastewater,” he rues.

Chandrasekar accepts that closing the power loom units is not a practical solution. It caused panic among banks that have given huge loans to power loom owners.

“Closing the looms will lead to starvation like situation for many families as they would lose their livelihoods.” Other textile hubs like Tirupur in Tamil Nadu resolved the pollution issue by investing money in zero discharge technology working through community and government partnerships.

Rather than adopt innovative measure to control pollution, the BSPCB, district administration and industry department, have resorted to an expensive and time consuming solution: to shift 12,000 units to a new industrial area.

“We have recommended the district administration shift power looms, dyeing and pressing units to an industrial area and set up a water treatment plant,” he told thethirdpole.net. In the meantime the BSPCB and district administration reopened the power loom units on June 30 last year in the same area.

Engineering Solutions

Patwa Toli is also known for having a high number of students graduating from Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) – among the most prestigious educational institutions in India.

In 1990s when recession hit the handloom sector, children in Patwa Toli studied hard in the deafening noise of looms and poverty to crack the country’s toughest engineering exam- the Indian Institute of Technology-Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE).

There are now over 200 IIT graduates from Patwa Toli, but they, and scores of technocrats in the area, have also failed to resolve the pollution problem.

Keshar Prasad an engineer who graduated from IIT-Kharagpur in 2008 belongs to the family that has produced seven IIT graduates. Keshar is presently employed at Eco Lab in Pune. He argues that improving Patwa Toli’s drainage system to control the pollution would be cheaper than shifting the power looms.

powerloom
Innovative ways could help save the jobs as well as treat the wastewater, but they have not been adopted. Image: Alok Gupta via The Third Pole

“Both industrial and residential waste flows from the same drain. It would be easy to collect and recycle the dye wastewater if the industrial drainage had a separate outlet,” he says. Keshar’s solution would save millions of rupees.

Krishna Prasad, a graduate of Cochin University proposes a comprehensive pollution plan for Patwa Toli. “Let’s run looms on solar energy, plant trees and chemicals from dyes can be re-used,” he says.

Meanwhile, the power looms are back in business, further polluting the groundwater and Falgu River.  Residents, after staging over a dozen protest including demonstrations, road blockades and sit-ins over the last eight months, have now turned to the courts for help.

“We have hired an advocate to seek justice. We are also planning to approach the National Green Tribunal,” Narayan from the Swabhiman party says.

*This story first appeared on The Third Pole

Is this a Greener approach to laundry? Ask Hilton and Hyatt

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Xeros’ innovative polymer beads extract dirt from linens and uniforms, using far less water than conventional washing methods.

Federal data estimates that hotels and other hospitality businesses guzzle about 15 percent of the water used commercially (PDF) every year in the United States. The laundries they run to keep guest linens fresh are among the top three consumers — after private and public bathrooms and alongside landscape irrigation.

But an 11-year-old British-born technology firm called Xeros is helping early adopters wring millions of gallons out of water out of their operations — essentially by reverse-engineering and mimicking the fabric-dying process. Xeros machines have been shown to use far less water than conventional high-capacity washing machines — in some cases about a half-gallon per pound of fabric, compared with the more than three gallons per pound that traditional equipment can use, according to the company’s data.

At the Stanford Park Hotel, a boutique property in Northern California with 162 guest rooms, that translated into more than 1 million gallons of water saved in one year. (For those who love numerical comparisons, 1 million gallons is about the same amount needed to fill 20,000 bathtubs.) Other customers, including several Hilton, Hampton Inn and Hyatt locations, also have surpassed that milestone. “Our adoption is starting to come from repeat customers. … That gets you past the new company syndrome,” said Joe Bazzinotti, president of the global commercial laundry operation for Xeros, which makes its U.S. base in Manchester, New Hampshire.

How does the technology work? Xeros uses recyclable polymer beads that, when combined with its detergent, become ionized so that they pull dirt and stains away from the fabric. Rather than filling the entire drum with water, the “extractor” adds it gradually and continually  like the difference between taking a showing and soaking in a bath tub. The dirt is released along with the water into the hotel’s conventional drainage systems, but the beads are captured separately after each cycle, recharged and then reused. The company’s systems currently come in 35-pound and 90-pound models.

“We found that it’s cost-effective, and we’re saving a lot of water,” said Chris Busbin, director of engineering for the Stanford Park Hotel. It has also cut the energy associated with this process in half, because it doesn’t need to heat or cool the water. The property currently uses two machines, which it leases from Xeros along with the detergent and a monthly maintenance visit. Sensors on the systems keep track of how much water each system uses and how many cycles have been run. (Xeros put together an “as-a-service” program to help hotels and other hospitality organizations make the switch.)

“Our sweet spot is definitely hotels,” said Bazzinotti, pointing to installations in the U.S., U.K., Canada and the Caribbean. Another niche market that you’ll see the company more exploit in years to come: industrial laundries and dry-cleaning businesses.

Closing the loop

One thing that the Stanford Park Hotel operations staff examined closely before starting to use Xeros machines about 18 months ago was how often the polymer beads can be used before they must be replaced — and what happens to them afterward. They didn’t want to make progress in water conservation in exchange for releasing harmful substances into the environment. Right now, its beads are recycled quarterly for this particular location, which is a common metric, according to Xeros executives.

David Kaupp, vice president of global marketing for Xeros, said the company uses conventional polymer recycling partners to manage end-of-life beads. “We knew this would be of concern to everyone,” he said. That’s one reason Xeros opted for its model of delivering its machines as a service — so it can better control where the beads wind up.

The company also partnered with chemicals giant BASF back in 2013 to maximize the cleansing properties of its polymer while ensuring they still can be recycled relatively easily.

“On the one side, as a globally active chemical company, we can support Xeros through our global network and the worldwide availability of our materials,” said BASF business development executive Matthias Dietrich when the deal was announced. “On the other side, we can make use of our strong research and development base, which can provide tailor-made plastics with specific combinations of properties.”

While the Xeros executives declined to disclose the company’s total customer count, its financial results published in September (PDF) pegged the total number of machines installed at just under 300. In that same report, the company’s CEO forecasts that Xeros will be installing about 2,000 systems annually by 2020; that could include a licensing deal with a “global OEM.”

It’s also working on adapting its technology for use in leather tanneries, and the financial report also hints at consumer applications.

*This story first appeared on GreenBiz