Washing Big Name Brands Makes Consumers Polluters
Greenpeace released evidence1 on March 20 that hazardous chemical residues in clothing items sold by major brands2 are released into public waterways when they are washed by consumers. Once entering our rivers, lakes and seas these chemicals then break down into even more toxic and hormone-disrupting substances.
Greenpeace research measures for the first time the percentage of the hazardous chemicals nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)3 washed out during simulated standard domestic laundering conditions for 14 clothing items.4 The results show that consumers of brands such Abercrombie & Fitch, G-Star and Calvin Klein are unknowingly polluting the public water supplies in regions and countries around the world, including those where there are restrictions or bans on the use of these chemicals.5
“World Water Day is approaching and while international organisations and research groups show their concerns over the future of water quality and water access, the textile industry is still polluting. It’s time the sector moved to safe alternatives to these chemicals,” said Marietta Harjono, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner.
“This study proves that the textile industry is creating water pollution all around the globe. While the discharges of toxic chemicals from the manufacturing process is focused where the textile are produced, the washing of the clothes and the pollution which follows are happening anywhere in the world these products are bought,” said Harjono.
In 2011, Greenpeace published two reports—one investigating the discharge of hazardous substances from textiles manufacturing in China linked to major clothing and sportswear companies (Dirty Laundry)6, and another detailing the presence of NPEs in clothing and footwear of 15 leading brands (Dirty Laundry 2: Hung Out to Dry).7 With the publication of these reports, Greenpeace challenged global brands to eliminate all releases of hazardous chemicals from their supply chains and products by 2020. The call has so far led to public commitments to “Detox” from sportswear giants Nike, Adidas, Puma and Li-Ning, along with fast-fashion retailers H&M and C&A.8
Given the scale of the problem, Greenpeace is calling for more brands to join the Detox challenge. For the companies which have already committed, Greenpeace is demanding that they respond to the urgency of the situation by setting clear and ambitious short term deadlines for the elimination of the most hazardous chemicals.
To mark the publication of Dirty Laundry Reloaded and raise awareness for the pollution caused by the fashion sector, Greenpeace activists today joined PlanetStreet artists to create a 3D street painting which was unveiled at 11.00 a.m. in the square facing the World Fashion Centre in Amsterdam.
For more information, click here.
1. Report available by clicking here.
2. For the lists of brands and products against the percentage of chemicals released please see "Dirty Laundry: Reloaded" report Figure 1, page 6
3. NPEs are chemicals used in textile manufacture. Even where wastewater containing NPEs is treated, this only speeds up the conversion into the toxic NP. More detailed information on these substances is available on page 12 of “Dirty Laundry II” by clicking here and on page 51, Box 2.2, of the “Dirty Laundry” report, available by clicking here.
4. The tested sample consisting of 12 made of plain fabric and two samples of fabric bearing a plastisol print. The items were part of the samples found containing residues of NPEs as specified in the "Dirty Laundry - Hung out to dry" report, available by clicking here.
5. “The use of NP and NPEs in clothing manufacture has effectively been banned within the EU and similar restrictions are also in place in the US and Canada. In the EU, releases of NP/NPEs due to the washing of textile products imported from outside the EU have been estimated to constitute by far the largest source of these chemicals entering wastewater treatment facilities in some instances.” Dirty Laundry Reloaded, Executive Summary, page 7.
6. Dirty Laundry report is available by clicking here.
7. See "Dirty Laundry—Hung out to Dry" report by clicking here.
8. So far six international brands have committed to Detox. These include:
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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