Saturday, April 4th, 2020

Fashion Sense or Fashion Suicide? Leather Tanneries Are The “Most Toxic” Place On Earth

Published on November 25, 2011 by   ·   35 Comments Pin It

According to “The World’s Worst Toxic Pollution Problems Report, 2011″ prepared by Green Cross Switzerland and Blacksmith Institute, the 62 chrome tanneries spanning South Asia, South America, Africa, and Central America have contributed to the chromium poisoning (this can lead to eye damage, ulcers, bronchitis, and kidney and liver damage) of 1.9 million people. As revealed by Connie Wang from Refinery 29, tanneries are seriously endangering the lives of nearly 2 million people every year.

Add that to the list of problems leather farming ensues, including animal abuse, global recklessness, and unsafe working conditions.  How can we say that adorning leather has anything to do with having fashion sense when we blindly ignore these issues?  We can’t call it fashion sense at all. It’s more like fashion suicide.

Although some companies say their products are “biodegradable” and “eco-friendly,” the process of tanning stabilizes the collagen or protein fibers so that they actually stop biodegrading. Vegetable tanning is often termed the more eco-friendly alternative, however we argue that leather can’t be considered a sustainable material no matter what. Raising animals whose skins are turned into leather creates waste and pollution. Huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production and trees are being cut down to create pastureland.

(Stream of distress: Worried about starving, thirsty people? Don’t buy leather! Untreated effluents from leather tanneries pose a hazard to groundwater. A scene at Pammal near Chennai. via The Hindu)

Most leather produced in the U.S. and around the world is chrome-tanned. All wastes containing chromium are considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition a chrome-tanning facility wastes nearly 15,000 gallons of water and produces up to 2,200 pounds of “solid waste” (e.g., hair, flesh, and trimmings) for every ton of hides that it processes.

Among the disastrous consequences of this noxious waste is the threat to human health from the highly elevated levels of lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde in the groundwater near tanneries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area surrounding one tannery in Kentucky was five times the national average.  Arsenic, a common tannery chemical, has long been associated with lung cancer in workers who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Several studies have established links between sinus and lung cancers and the chromium used in tanning.

Wonder what you can do? Stop buying it. Period. Vegan shoes and bags are cooler anyway.  See this comprehensive list of all non-leather shoe and bag designers.

article via Julie Dicterow who co-owns a very fabulous ethical shoe & handbag line

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Readers Comments (35)

  1. Chris the goatherder says:

    Thanks for addressing this issue. My friend treated some goat skin with natural tannins recently. we dont import any foods for the critters nor use any fuel to raise them. I coppice trees as opposed to clearcutting so everything stays bushy and neat.
    If you could find leathermakers who kept such stringent standards would you support them? might be a side gig for me someday but dont want to put off the eco conscious set!

  2. ava says:

    leather is ugly and looks terrible on people. it makes people look old, tired and it smells! ever sat on a leather couch? it soaks up all the toxins and sweat from people who have sat there, and it stinks as such after only a few months.
    leather shoes give me blisters, soreness and hurt my feet.
    leather sucks!
    leather sucks!

  3. Hallie says:

    Great article. As long as we’re on the topic, however, it seems like the vegan but PVC problem should be brought to light. It may be vegan but if it’s made from PVC, some would argue that it is just as bad (if not worse) than the dangers produced by tanneries. Something to think about…

  4. amale says:

    My country recently allowed a leather factory to be constructed in small town, the problem is that the plant is polluting the river which is our source of drinking water moreover the solid and sludge waste and the smell is also very noticeble and dumped with out treatment. advice what to do

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