The United States of America is a big fan of ‘outsourcing’ across industries. For instance, over the years, the US has outsourced its textile manufacturing overseas to countries that promise cheap labour. According to recent estimates, 98% of apparel and shoes consumed in the US today are made abroad.
However, this doesn’t mean that the United States is free of from worrying about textile related water pollution. Even the few textile milling companies that operate locally, not to mention cotton growers, are still polluting water sources.
Contamination in the Flint River, Atlanta
A case in point is TenCate, an Atlanta-based company that makes fire-resistant clothes for fire fighters and military personnel.
Landowners and environmentalists have accused TenCate of discharging waste that contains heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium and others into tributaries that flow into the Flint River and are suing the textile miller for damages.
TenCate considers its water system treatment, which involves spraying fields near the rivers with the waste water, safe. The system presumes that soil and plants in the fields filter the chemicals in the waste water and whatever makes it into the river is free of significant amounts of pollutants.
However, landowners and environmentalists claim that the method is not efficient as the fields have become too saturated with pollutants and hence cannot filter off any new waste. They intend, through the lawsuit, to have the courts prohibit TenCate from dumping industrial waste and to also have them pay fines for the damage already done. The legal action is a move by landowners to protect their health and prevent fluctuation of property values.
The Flint River is just one such case.
Textile Based Contamination in the Coosa River, Alabama
In September 2016, Gadsden Water Works, a water supplier and sewer management company in Georgia, filed a lawsuit against 30 textile companies operating in or around the Dalton area, for polluting the city’s water with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctyl sulfonate (PFOS). The two compounds are used during the milling process to make carpets and textiles resistant to water, stains and grease.
According to health advisories issued by the US EPA and the departments of public health and environmental management in Alabama, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and infants suffer serious health effects when exposed to PFOS and PFOA, both of which are synthetic and non-biodegradable.
According to the lawsuit, the polluting companies dump PFOS and PFOA into a major tributary of the Coosa River, where Gadsden sources its water. Gadsden hopes to get compensation for the costs it will incur for installing a filtration system for cleaning the water from the river.
Textile Based Contamination in the Rio Grande
America’s water basins also suffer from indirect pollution by chemicals used during cotton growing.
The Rio Grande, which runs across a large portion of the US and Mexico serves as a key source of water for irrigating cotton.
Pesticides and inorganic fertilizers used during cotton growing wash off into the river endangering fish, aquatic plants and making water unsafe for human use.
Factors Affecting Anti-Pollution Efforts in America
No place in the world is exempt from fabric dye-related water pollution as long as the primary method of getting rid of industrial waste is dumping it in a water body.
Though the US is one of the countries in the world with the strictest anti-pollution laws, such as the Clean Water Act, this has not deterred industries from dumping chemical waste into rivers and lakes. A few reasons why dye pollution is still a problem in the US despite strict laws include:
Lack of manpower to enforce the rules
Cotton farmers are given attractive subsidies by the government to keep growing cotton.
Complacency by officials. For example, in the case of Flint River, TenCate maintains that the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection permitted the dumping.
Until these issues are addressed, water contamination caused by the textile industry will continue to pose a threat and danger to the health of Americans.