[Document] The human story behind the pollution

A Greenpeace researcher collects information from a local resident who lives near a polluted river. The area specialises in textile and dyeing.

A Greenpeace researcher collects information from a local resident who lives near a polluted river. The area specialises in textile and dyeing.

Greenpeace has visited more than 100 factories over the past three years, tracking down evidence of fashion pollution and recording victims’ stories. Most recently, we found two industrial complexes in Hangzhou and Zhejiang province, suppliers to top global fashion labels, dumping one million tons of effluent a day into the Qiantang River. This effluent contains environmental hormones and carcinogens, threatening the environment, local residents, factory workers, farmers and fishermen.

Black whirlpools in the Qiantang River

These black eddies come from the hidden waste pipe of the water treatment plant of an industrial complex in Xiaoshan near Hangzhou. Thick black sewage mixes with white foam. It’s viscous and gives off a milky vapor which shrouds the river bank and extends inland several hundred meters, carrying a sour stench with it.

We dressed 10 dummies in pairs of fashion jeans and placed them at the edge of the river. Webcams in their heads recorded the gushing and putrid effluent at a live press conference.

The Reality of Being a Textile Worker

Some of Shaoxing’s printing and dying factories use more than 250 kg of dye a day, and that’s not adding in all the other toxic chemicals they use. The locals have a saying: “If you want to know what this season’s color is, just take a look in the river.”

The workers’ skin is covered in layer upon layers of dye.  They say that in the summer, when they sweat, their white t-shirts are stained red. It feels like the chemicals are sinking into their skin, and they are worried that it is harming their health.  And for those people who have the left the factory, it takes them at least three months before they can gradually scrub the dye from their skin, their face and their fingernails.

From bucolic to black

There is a small river that winds next to Xin’er Village in Zhejiang. In the past few years, many dye factories have been built along both sides of the river. At first the villagers were happy because they were given compensation and many of them got jobs in the factories.

But it wasn’t not long after that they realized something was seriously wrong when dead fish started appearing and the water turned black and began to stink.  The only way they could avoid the putrid smells from the pollution was to keep their doors and windows shut day and night.

Living in a cancer village

Sanjiang Village used to be famous for its Ming dynasty buildings and city wall. These days, since the factories moved in, the name just conjures up two words: cancer village.

The local hospital has many cancer patients. One doctor said: “ More than 70 or 80 people have died of cancer from Sanjiang. Just like my brother-in-law who passed away this May from lung cancer.”

Local Governments Step In

Our investigation report and record of the victims made the local government take the first step to solving this crisis.  Local environmental bureaus responded by collecting pollution samples. They released their findings to the public and started talking to us about how to solve the problem.