Hesperian Health Guides
Pollution from garment factories
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Garment factories are often built in areas where there are few industrial services available. So garbage from the factory is burned or dumped on the land, and chemicals are released into the air and water. For more information, see Chapter 33: Pollution from factories.
Our water turned bright blue!
Our government in Lesotho, Africa invited big brand names to set up factories here. Gap and Levi’s opened factories and many people were happy to have jobs.
Making jeans produced a lot of waste. Many materials could not be recycled. Water used to treat, rinse, and wash the fabric was polluted. And there was a lot of waste from machine maintenance and all the paper and plastic from the office.
The companies said they had systems to collect and take care of the waste. But the factories in Lesotho didn’t have a system. They just dumped solid waste onto the land and polluted water into our streams.
The dumps filled with fabric, needles, chemical containers, and many other things the factories threw away. People from the community went to the dump to collect what they could use or sell. Children would carry chemical containers back to their homes for storing water. They would pick up needles and tools. Some women began burning fabric scraps in their cooking fires. They didn’t know the fabric was treated with chemicals and that as the scraps burned they poisoned their air and food.
The streams turned blue. Bright blue! This water irrigated our fields. All those dyes and other chemicals went straight into the food we ate.
One of our community leaders asked a photographer to take pictures of the waste. After they were put on the Internet we got more visitors. People came from newspapers and magazines to show the world what was happening here. Gap and Levi’s came too. They said they didn’t know this was happening and that it shouldn’t have happened. They made the factories clean up. But we are still waiting to see how they will stop making so much waste and what they will do with the waste they have already thrown away.