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Gap, Calvin Klein, Levi’s Linked to Toxic ‘Textile Town,’ Greenpeace Says

Textile suppliers for Levi Strauss & Co, Zara and many other global clothing brands likely dump a wide range of hazardous chemicals into China’s wastewater systems, according to a Greenpeace study.

In Toxic Threads: Putting Pollution on Parade, Greenpeace says its investigation, which focused on the discharge of effluent from China’s two major industrial zones in Zhejiang Province, found a variety of toxic chemicals in the wastewater. Among them: a range of chlorinated anilines, some of which are carcinogenic, and chlorinated benzenes, environmental pollutants that remain in the environment for a prolonged time and can cause liver and kidney damage in humans. The lab analysis also found hazardous chlorinated chemicals including 1,2-dichloroethane (EDC), which is carcinogenic to animals and possibly humans, and chloroethane, which is harmful to aquatic life and a suspected carcinogen.

The report says that, according to data from China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, industry accounted for 38.5 percent of the volume of wastewater discharged into water in 2010.

Many international brands source their products from facilities in these industrial zones, but identifying whether individual suppliers are releasing hazardous substances in their effluent is almost impossible. In an attempt to link brands to the so-called “textile town,” Greenpeace sent letters to a host of companies, asking them to comment on whether they had suppliers based in the Binhai and Linjiang industrial zones.

Levi’s — which provides a list of its global suppliers — and Zara both acknowledged that they used companies on Greenpeace’s list.

Greenpeace says, according to its own research via Chinese suppliers’ website, several other global brands source their textiles from facilities in the industrial zones. These include Marks & Spencer, H&M, Next, The Limited, Express, Nike, Adidas, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Levi’s, JC Penney, Liz Claiborne, Gap, Target Store, Esprit and Adidas.

However, according to the report, this information does not give any indication about hazardous chemicals used or released by these specific facilities. It says transparency of information between suppliers and brands — and a full hazardous substance use inventory — is needed to eliminate dangerous chemicals and substitute them with safer alternatives.

This is not the first time Greenpeace has targeted the clothing industry. A study published last month said hazardous chemical residues have been found in clothing made by Zara, Calvin Klein, Benetton, Giorgio Armani, the Gap and 15 other global brands, and Adidas, H&M, Ralph Lauren and Nike were criticized earlier this year in a Greenpeace report on chemicals found in clothing.

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