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East Delhi Washhouse Risks Closure After Reports of Toxic Effluent

An unidentified India-based denim wash facility is under fire after local residents complained of health hazards they believe are caused by the plant’s chemical usage.

On Tuesday, the Times of India reported that East Delhi mayor Shyam Sunder Aggarwal issued an order to “seal the plant” after visiting the surrounding Sadatpur area with local officials and interacting with members of the Resident Welfare Association (RWA). During the visit, he noticed dark effluent, which he connected to the residents’ reports of acidic chemical usage and a growing rate of cancer diagnoses.

The article reports that he did not visit the facility or speak with its employees, but that he could “already make out from the [area’s] condition” that there were violations, and added that “acidic chemical is not supposed to be used in residential areas, but only in designated areas after due permission.”

The factory will be issued a citation before receiving a sealing order. If employees vacate the unit in a timely fashion, the sealing order will be reversed.

The finding comes on the heels of a report from Water Witness International (WWI), a U.K.-based organization focused on sustainable water resource management, which highlighted extreme water pollution in certain African countries that support the global fashion supply chain, including Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius and Tanzania. There, researchers found some of the river flow had a pH of 12—the same as household bleach—as well as high levels of carcinogenic chemicals. In other areas, water was visibly polluted with blue dye from denim production.

According to the report, the polluted runoff threatens the local communities’ health and crops that are irrigated with the water, and skin burns and disease can come from contact with the pollution.

Water effluent remains a top water-related challenge, as toxic chemicals can make their way to local water sources. Through new water stewardship standards and companies’ transparency and sustainability improvements, the denim industry is working to clean local waterways.

Gap Inc. has committed to using bio-softeners, foam dye, Washwell and recycled and organic cotton to do its part. Similarly, G-Star’s recent men’s and women’s collection leverages a dye process that uses 15 percent less indigo, 70 percent less chemicals, no salts, and produces no salt by-product during the reduction and dyeing process.