Indian Pesticide Pollution

The rich West has become used to cheap clothes. Walk into several high street stores and you can find T-shirts for £4 and pairs of jeans for £10.

Much of the cotton used in these garments is grown in India, the second largest producer of cotton in the world – the weather is well suited, labour is cheap and environmental regulations are less stringent (and less stringently enforced) than many other parts of the world.

Unfortunately cotton has many pests, and in order to maintain yields Indian farmers have been resorting to using ever larger quantities of pesticides, particularly as pests have become increasingly resistant. As a result cotton production accounts for more than half of India’s pesticide usage, even though it occupies only 5% of its agricultural land !

this reliance of large quantities of pesticides causes problems, but not only because of the volumes – it is often inappropriately applied by illiterate farmers – often at the wrong times of year, in the wrong weather or using ineffective techniques. Workers are often left unprotected, and regularly exposed to direct contact with high levels of pesticides, with many significant health consequences.

The organochlorine pesticide endosulfan, in particular, is in common use in Indian cotton growing, years after it’s widespread banning throughout most of the rest of the world. Agreement to phase it out was finally reached in 2011, as a result of increasing health concerns.

As with many of the things we buy in the globalized market, we tend to be ignorant of the effects of our consumption on the environment, and most vulnerable around the world – and cheap clothing is no exception. If we want to avoid our clothes being responsible for such far off impacts, we need to research our purchases carefully, buy organic cotton garments more often, buy second hand, or perhaps just consider buying fewer clothes overall . . . just a thought.


Photo by KimberleyKV, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – The Fate of the World, The Most Polluted Place on Earth, E-Waste Pollution

E-Waste Pollution

How many mobile phones have you owned in your life ?

How about computers, video games consoles, monitors, TVs, stereos, speakers, video recorders, microwaves, printers, scanners, fax machines, DVD players ?

We carefully put them in the e-waste skip for recycling at the local dump – but where do they go after that ?

The sad truth is that it’s far more profitable to ship electronic waste to places like Nigeria, GhanaIndia and China for recycling and recovery of valuable metals, than it is to do it in the UK, Europe or the US.

Regulations now exist to prevent such trans-boundary shipments of e-waste, but these are not always effective.

Why ?

Because labour costs are cheap and environmental protection for this highly polluting process is often non-existent in the developing world.

In the language of economics, the pollution and health of the workers involved are ‘externalities‘ – not borne by the process, when waste is shipped to the developing world.

The city of Guiyu is the center of China’s e-waste recyling. It is, by any standard, a dirty and polluted place, with numerous health problems affecting it’s 200,000 poor migrant workers. Guiyu is no longer able to grow rice due to widespread pollution, and local water sources have become largely undrinkable.

It might be tempting to think of this of just another far off polluted place, tragic for the people involved, but nothing to do with us.

But it’s our thrown away surplus ‘stuff’ they’re sorting through – burning and recycling on our behalf. It’s our consumption habits, and our unwillingness to want to pay for the ‘externalities’ of  their pollution and health problems, that is to blame.


Take a look through THESE PHOTOS and see if you can spot any of your old gear . . . then consider ‘nudging’ the government to tighten-up regulation, electronics producers to tighten-up their return systems, and also yourself – to question whether you really need that upgrade just yet, or at least, if you do, to send your old phone or computer to a proper new home.


Photo by Wikicommons, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – The Fate of the World, The Most Polluted Place on Earth

Canada’s Tar Sands

Alberta in Canada is home to what is now considered one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves – the Athabasca Tar Sands.

At room temperature the oil saturated soils and sands are semi-solid with a consistency of cold molasses, meaning they cannot flow freely, and heated steam or solvents are required to extract usable hydrocarbons. This makes oil from tar sands sources far more energy intensive to obtain, and potentially far more polluting.

Covering a huge area, to date only a small fraction of the total tar sands reserves have been exploited.

Even so, significant environmental impacts have already occurred, including pollution of sensitive ecosystems and water resources, and elevated levels of local air pollution, with the resulting fuel oil producing between 5 and 15% more carbon over it’s production-use lifetime than most conventional crude oils.

Some campaigners have labelled the tar sands project as The Biggest Environmental Crime in History.

Though championed by the Canadian Government, the tar sands extraction project is strongly criticised by numerous organisations and individuals, including Greenpeace, The Sierra Club, Naomi Klein and the WWF, as well as many local groups set-up in opposition, such as Dirty Oil Sands and Oil Sands Truth.

In the talk below conservation photographer and anti-tar sands campaigner Garth Lenz is moved to the point of tears describing local families having to feed potentially carcinogenic food to their children.

Similar articles – The Most Polluted Place on Earth ?, Mountaintop Removal, Gas Flares in the Niger Delta

Photo from Wikicommons

The Most Polluted Place on Earth ?

Where’s the most polluted place in the world ?

Typing the above question into a search engine will quickly throw-up a number of potential candidates:

- The city of Linfen, in the heart of China’s coal belt

- Kabwe in Zambia, the name of which literally translates as “ore” or “smelting”

- The industrial city of Vapi in the Gujarat, India

- The town of La Oroya, in the lead mining area of Peru

- The city of Sukinda, also in India, home to one of the world’s largest chromite mines

The truth is of course that it’s not that straightforward, or particularly meaningful to rank polluted places in this way. An area might be heavily contaminated, but with perhaps only a limited number of people being exposed; or there might be ongoing pollution of important rivers or ecosystems, but little direct risk to human health. It’s a bit like comparing apples and pears.

The Blacksmith Institute wrestle with these issues every year, to publish their well regarded list of the world’s ‘top 10 polluted places‘.

Regardless of the exact order of the ranking, these lists are very useful in highlighting pollution problems around the world, and two things in particular stand out:

Firstly, that millions of people around the world are having their health significantly affected by toxic pollution.

And secondly, the world’s most polluted places are all in the developing world.

The pollution stems from a range of local manufacturing, mining, smelting, processing and associated transport and energy production,  in large part associated with the production of consumer goods, food, clothing and other items – much of it destined for export to the rich world.

Not only has the West exported most of our manufacturing jobs to the developing economies – we’ve also largely exported our pollution too !

Industries move because the costs are lower – partly because labour is cheaper (people are paid less and receive fewer benefits, such as health care and pensions), and partly because there are less stringent environmental regulations and those that do exist tend to be less well enforced.

When companies talk about improved efficiency, lower overheads, improved shareholder value etc – they’re unfortunately not always talking about ‘the good stuff’ we want them to do. Often these terms are euphemisms for leaving many of the real costs of production to be paid for by someone else, other than the company or the consumer, such as exploited workers, or polluted environments. Ultimately it’s down to the desire for higher profits, and cheaper ‘stuff’.

This of course is not new.

A list of the world’s most polluted places produced around 1900 would have looked very different, comprising several of the large industrial cities of Europe. There is of course, still plenty of pollution in the West – but much of it is associated with old legacy industries, now long gone, but with their various toxic chemical footprints remaining - from UK’s Victorian gasworks and coal mines, to the sediments of the Great Lakes polluted by effluent from car manufacturing and other industries across the American Mid-West.

Over time we’ve tackled many (not all) our pollution problems, with reformers like Edwin Chadwick, Joeseph BazalgetteAlice Hamilton and Rachel Carson progressively bringing about changes to ensure the costs of controlling pollution were borne by whoever was responsible for producing it – the so called ‘polluter pays principle‘.

But this only applies in our own economies, and in our globalised, inter-connected world, the full costs of cheap goods is often left to be borne by others, invariably the poorest and most vulnerable. Unfortunately we consumers are all too often complicit in this process – with pollution being caused on our behalf on the other side of the planet, to keep down the cost of our food, clothes, mobile phones or children’s toys.

Ultimately the answer can only lie in paying the true price for things, so that pollution can be controlled, waste dealt with properly, resources used sustainably and workers treated fairly.

What we choose to spend our money on matters.

As a start we might want to check out the ethical credentials of the products we buy and the companies producing them (Ethical Consumer) – alternatively we could think about buying and consuming a little less . . . just a thought.

Similar articles – 10 Tips for More Ethical ShoppingTop 10 Anti-Consumerist Must Haves

Photo from Gambier20, via Flickr

India’s Asbestos Roofs

The photo shows a communal washing area in the Mumbai slums, India – complete with asbestos roofs.

Corrugated asbestos-cement roofing is a very popular material in the slums and informal settlements of Indian cities – it’s rigid, not too heavy, waterproof, easy to cut and fix together, fireproof and most importantly: cheap.

But as is well known in the West, asbestos is a dangerous carcinogen, with asbestos fibres causing damage to the lung (asbestosis) when inhaled, and potentially, after a latent period of typically thirty years, the always fatal form of lung cancer mesothelioma.

As a consequence the importation, supply and use of asbestos has been banned in most Western countries for many years: since 1985 in the UK for ‘blue’ and ‘brown’ asbestos, and 1999 for ‘white’ asbestos (crysotile) the fibre that is mixed with cement to produce corrugated sheeting.

Asbestos sheeting maintained in good condition releases few fibres into the air, but once damaged, cracked, frayed or fragmented, a large number of dangerous fibres can be released, presenting a significant health hazard. On the roofs of Indian slums, where it is sawn and fixed by hand, it’s difficult to avoid releasing fibres.

Asbestos materials are still legal in India, and the risks poorly understood by those using them. It seems likely India is storing up a health timebomb for the future, amongst its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

And you might be surprised to learn where India imports the majority of this asbestos from . . . Canada !

Photo by pandrcutts, via Flickr

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