Hazards of textiles ‘forever chemical’ – Dhaka The Financial Express

The study, titled ‘Persistent threat: PFAS water and textiles in Bangladesh’ by the Environment and Social Development Organization and International Pollutants Elimination Network sheds light on a crucial issue that requires immediate attention from both policymakers and leaders in the garment and textile industries. The report shows alarming levels toxic PFAS in water samples and surface water collected in industrial areas around Dhaka, especially those that are associated with the textile industries.

PFAS is a complex, large group of synthetic chemicals used in consumer goods around the globe since the 1950s. Water and stain resistance is a key feature of PFAS, which are used in a wide range of consumer products including textiles. Scientists say that these chemicals could degrade for hundreds, or even thousands, of years after initial use. PFAS can remain in water for hundreds of years if they leak. Bangladesh, the second-largest apparel producer in the world and the largest textile manufacturer globally, is at the epicenter of the environmental crisis.

Dr. Shahriar Hussain, senior technical and policy advisor at ESDO, and the lead author of the report, addressed the issue by saying, “Regulating thousands PFAS chemicals individually would take decades, and put our children in danger.” All PFAS chemicals must be controlled globally. It is practical and necessary for him to call for a class based approach in order to ban PFAS chemicals. A piecemeal approach to regulation would be inadequate and dangerously slow, given the sheer complexity and number of PFAS chemicals.

The health effects of PFAS exposure are well-documented. These chemicals are linked to cancer, liver damage, thyroid disruption, fertility issues, and developmental problems. Textile industry and policymakers are slow to react despite these serious risks. The study found PFASs in 87 percent of surface water samples, and many samples exceeded proposed regulatory limits alarmingly. One sample taken from the Karnatali river in Savar had PFAS levels that were 300 times higher than the proposed EU limit. PFOA levels and PFOS concentrations were thousands of times greater than Dutch advisory levels.

The study also highlights that major international fashion brands who source products from Bangladesh have a significant impact. These brands can drive change by demanding PFAS free products and being transparent regarding the presence of chemicals in their products. Some brands have already pledged to eliminate PFAS. This shows that there are viable and safer alternatives. Textile industry must also follow suit, prioritising public health and sustainability of the environment over short-term gains. The government can force them to comply if necessary.

Siddika Sulaiman, the executive director of ESDO Bangladesh, correctly points out that, “the fashion industry exporting to Bangladesh should not be allowed to contaminate rivers, lakes and faucets with PFAS.” It is important to hold the industry accountable, and to enforce stricter regulations. Bangladesh does not have specific regulations for PFAS. This is a problem that policymakers need to address urgently. To mitigate this threat, it is critical to implement a class-based PFAS chemical ban and set strict contamination limits.

All life depends on clean water. It is important not only for humans but also for plants and animals. This is the foundation for a healthy eco-system. Dhaka’s rivers were once alive with life but are now polluted and choked from industrial and human waste. It is not only a concern for the present, but for our collective survival. Stop the decay and stop our suicidal behavior immediately. The public, industry, and policymakers must all work together to improve the water quality in Dhaka and create a healthier future for everyone.

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