WorstPolluted.ORG 2011: Tannery Operations: Chromium Pollution
Estimated Population at Risk:
Around the world, the vast majority of the tannery industry run their operations with good pollution controls, and does not expose local populations to health risk. The large shoe manufacturers carefully screen to make sure their suppliers have well-run facilities. Certainly, there is no health risk to wearing the leather products made by tanners. However, one can find many sites throughout the developing world with abandoned factories that used to make tanning chemicals, or poorly-run (usually small) tanneries, or legacy contaminated waterways with dangerous levels of chemicals. These places pose significant public health risks to local populations.
The leather manufacturing industry consists of several different processes, with one of the most important activities being the tanning of the raw hides. Tanning involves the processing of raw leather in order to make it more resilient and strong for use in a variety of different products. Tanning is a widespread, global industry that works with both light and heavy types of leather. Light leather is generally used for shoes and other soft products such as purses, and heavy leather is used for straps, belts, and in various machinery.
The tanning process itself is made up of three general phases: acquisition and pretreatment of raw animal hides; treatment of the hides with a tanning agent; and drying and shining the hides before sending them to product manufacturers. Though these steps illustrate the general process, there are often many different processes that can be carried out at tanning facilities, and each may provide a variety of other services, such as bleaching, dyeing, finishing, and weaving of the hides...