The Toxic Price of Leather – New Short Film Released

Posted by on May 5, 2014 in Editorial Photography, News | No Comments

Very pleased to announce the launch of my new short-film ‘The Toxic Price of Leather’, a feature which looks at the effects of extreme pollution on the people and environment in and around the Indian city of Kanpur.

Here’s a brief outline of the story.

On the banks of the Ganges River in northern India, lies the city of Kanpur.

It has become one of the most important cities in India as its leather industry has grown and it is now the biggest producer of leather products in the whole country.

First established in the mid 19th Century, the city’s leather is exported across the world, with 95% of its leather destined for western markets including those in the US, UK and Germany.

This success is coming at great environmental and social costs that are destroying the local Ganges River ecology and scarring the local people in the form of life-threatening illnesses.

Everyday, 50 million litres of highly toxic waste water is generated by the tanneries of Kanpur.
Everyday, 50 million litres of highly toxic waste water is generated by the tanneries of Kanpur.

A tannery worker throws animals hides into a pile after having just been treated with chemicals and dyes.
A tannery worker throws animals hides into a pile after having just been treated with chemicals and dyes.

A tannery worker stands barefoot in an area used to collect waste waster from the dyeing and tanning process. The water is laced with a myriad of dangerous chemicals that are released into the local sewer system once used.
A tannery worker stands barefoot in an area used to collect waste waster from the dyeing and tanning process. The water is laced with a myriad of dangerous chemicals that are released into the local sewer system once used.

A child worker cuts pieces of leather outside of a workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
A child worker cuts pieces of leather outside of a workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

A young girl jumps over treated leather hides that have just been treated with chemicals and dyes and are drying in the sun.
A young girl jumps over treated leather hides that have just been treated with chemicals and dyes and are drying in the sun.

Two young men work with leather in a tannery workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
Two young men work with leather in a tannery workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

Rakesh, 16, strokes a piece of leather in the factory where he works in the India city of Kanpur. He suddenly lost the sight in his left eye as a child and is one of many people in the area suffering from health development issues.
Rakesh, 16, strokes a piece of leather in the factory where he works in the India city of Kanpur. He suddenly lost the sight in his left eye as a child and is one of many people in the area suffering from health development issues.

Factory workers making leather shoes in a workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
Factory workers making leather shoes in a workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

Factory workers sit amongst large piles of leather shoes in a workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur. Many of the city's leather products are destined for western markets.
Factory workers sit amongst large piles of leather shoes in a workshop in the Jajmau area of Kanpur. Many of the city’s leather products are destined for western markets.

A Reebok export surplus store in the Jajmau area of Kanpur. Leather from the nearby polluting tanneries is used for making a variety of leather products including shoes, bags and clothes.
A Reebok export surplus store in the Jajmau area of Kanpur. Leather from the nearby polluting tanneries is used for making a variety of leather products including shoes, bags and clothes.

Leather belts on sale in a street market in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
Leather belts on sale in a street market in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

A child pushes a chemical barrel down the street, outside of a leather factory, in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
A child pushes a chemical barrel down the street, outside of a leather factory, in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

Tannery waste water released into the local sewer system, in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
Tannery waste water released into the local sewer system, in the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

Huge amounts of waste water are channeled from nearby tanneries onto nearby farmland on the outskirts of Kanpur. Laced with highly toxic and acidic chemicals, foam is created when they pass through a small sluice gate, en route to being discharged onto local farmland.
Huge amounts of waste water are channeled from nearby tanneries onto nearby farmland on the outskirts of Kanpur. Laced with highly toxic and acidic chemicals, foam is created when they pass through a small sluice gate, en route to being discharged onto local farmland.

(Left) Ajay Patel, 21, of Sheikpura Village, stands next to his farmland on the outskirts of the city of Kanpur. White foam, laced with toxic chemicals, is created when water is churned up as it leaves the sewerage pipes and enters farmland (Right).
(Left) Ajay Patel, 21, of Sheikpura Village, stands next to his farmland on the outskirts of the city of Kanpur. White foam, laced with toxic chemicals, is created when water is churned up as it leaves the sewerage pipes and enters farmland (Right).

A farmer works in his field that has been irrigated with polluted water.
A farmer works in his field that has been irrigated with polluted water.

Chamilal, 55, stands outside his farmhouse in a small village on the outskirts of Kanpur. He is one of many local farmers who suffer from serious skin conditions, believed to have been brought about by having contact with toxic waste water from local tanneries which are pumped on nearby fields.
Chamilal, 55, stands outside his farmhouse in a small village on the outskirts of Kanpur. He is one of many local farmers who suffer from serious skin conditions, believed to have been brought about by having contact with toxic waste water from local tanneries which are pumped on nearby fields.

(Left) A small pool of red water sits in a footprint in near a waste water channel. The water is laced with toxic chemicals and is highly acidic, giving it its distinct colour. (Right) A child worker stands in the 'chromium fields' an area that is used to treat tannery waste, much of which is still laced with highly toxic chemicals.
(Left) A small pool of red water sits in a footprint in near a waste water channel. The water is laced with toxic chemicals and is highly acidic, giving it its distinct colour. (Right) A child worker stands in the ‘chromium fields’ an area that is used to treat tannery waste, much of which is still laced with highly toxic chemicals.

A child worker pulls discarded leather trimmings discarded from local tanneries. The waste is laced with toxic chemicals produced in the tanning process.
A child worker pulls discarded leather trimmings discarded from local tanneries. The waste is laced with toxic chemicals produced in the tanning process.

A child stands near to large vats that are used to burn discarded leather trimmings. Once dried, the trimmings are used as fertiliser and chicken feed. The leather still contains many toxins throughout the process.
A child stands near to large vats that are used to burn discarded leather trimmings. Once dried, the trimmings are used as fertiliser and chicken feed. The leather still contains many toxins throughout the process.

A man works with no protective equipment in the chromium fields of Kanpur, an area that receives waste from nearby tannery factories.
A man works with no protective equipment in the chromium fields of Kanpur, an area that receives waste from nearby tannery factories.

A young boy walks amongst discarded leather trimmings in a dumping ground on the banks of the Ganges River in Kanpur.
A young boy walks amongst discarded leather trimmings in a dumping ground on the banks of the Ganges River in Kanpur.

A fisherman pushes his boat along the Ganges River. Waste water in the foreground from nearby tanneries has contributed to the severe degradation of local water resources near the city of Kanpur.
A fisherman pushes his boat along the Ganges River. Waste water in the foreground from nearby tanneries has contributed to the severe degradation of local water resources near the city of Kanpur.

A smoke stack above a tannery belches out toxic air pollution above the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
A smoke stack above a tannery belches out toxic air pollution above the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

A family relaxes on top of a pile of leather trimmings at a dumpsite on the outskirts of the city of Kanpur. The trimmings are discarded from the nearby tannery factories and burnt, dried and then re-used as fertiliser and chicken feed.
A family relaxes on top of a pile of leather trimmings at a dumpsite on the outskirts of the city of Kanpur. The trimmings are discarded from the nearby tannery factories and burnt, dried and then re-used as fertiliser and chicken feed.

A man sits near a vat used for burning leather trimmings on the outskirts of the town of Kanpur. The leather is burnt, dried and then used as fertiliser and chicken feed.
A man sits near a vat used for burning leather trimmings on the outskirts of the town of Kanpur. The leather is burnt, dried and then used as fertiliser and chicken feed.

(Left & Right) Women from villages on the outskirts of Kanpur collect water from wells that have been sunk deep into the ground. It is feared that the severe pollution has penetrated the groundwater, allowing many harm toxins to enter the water and food chain. (Center) Tannery waste water accumulates on farmland near to the village.
(Left & Right) Women from villages on the outskirts of Kanpur collect water from wells that have been sunk deep into the ground. It is feared that the severe pollution has penetrated the groundwater, allowing many harm toxins to enter the water and food chain. (Center) Tannery waste water accumulates on farmland near to the village.

India-Kanpur-Leather-Pollution-28
India-Kanpur-Leather-Pollution-28

Saida, a tannery worker, in her home in the Indian city of Kanpur. She is one of many workers and locals who suffer from serious skin conditions, believed to have been brought about by having contact with toxic waste water from local tanneries.
Saida, a tannery worker, in her home in the Indian city of Kanpur. She is one of many workers and locals who suffer from serious skin conditions, believed to have been brought about by having contact with toxic waste water from local tanneries.

Kiran Devi (Left) and Ayush Kumar, 10, (Right) both come from the same village that is afflicted with water pollution from nearby tanneries. It is suspected that increased exposure to harmful chemicals during mothers' pregnancies might be causing the increased number of children being born with mental disabilities in the villages outside Kanpur.
Kiran Devi (Left) and Ayush Kumar, 10, (Right) both come from the same village that is afflicted with water pollution from nearby tanneries. It is suspected that increased exposure to harmful chemicals during mothers’ pregnancies might be causing the increased number of children being born with mental disabilities in the villages outside Kanpur.

Villagers suffer from nail abnormalities believed to have been caused by prolonged exposure to highly acidic and toxic waste water which is discharged onto their farmland.
Villagers suffer from nail abnormalities believed to have been caused by prolonged exposure to highly acidic and toxic waste water which is discharged onto their farmland.

Shabhan Sheikh Siddique (1) lies on a bed outside the family home in a poor community of Kanpur. He suffers from cataracts and is one of a growing number of children in the community suffering from developmental issues believed to have been caused by increased exposure to water pollution whilst in the womb.
Shabhan Sheikh Siddique (1) lies on a bed outside the family home in a poor community of Kanpur. He suffers from cataracts and is one of a growing number of children in the community suffering from developmental issues believed to have been caused by increased exposure to water pollution whilst in the womb.

A dog lies next to a severely polluted water channel. The water comes from nearby tanneries which release untreated waste water directly into channels that run through local communities.
A dog lies next to a severely polluted water channel. The water comes from nearby tanneries which release untreated waste water directly into channels that run through local communities.

Children running through a polluted tributary of the Ganges River at Kanpur.
Children running through a polluted tributary of the Ganges River at Kanpur.

Tannery waste water, mixed with domestic trash, is discharged directly into the Ganges River, India's holiest of waterways.
Tannery waste water, mixed with domestic trash, is discharged directly into the Ganges River, India’s holiest of waterways.

Men clean themselves and pray in the Ganges River at Kanpur. Just a few hundred metres upstream, tanneries release highly toxic waste water in India's holiest of waterways.
Men clean themselves and pray in the Ganges River at Kanpur. Just a few hundred metres upstream, tanneries release highly toxic waste water in India’s holiest of waterways.

A man walks along the banks of the Ganges River near the city of Kanpur. Black leather trimmings line the banks as they dry and are prepared for being turned into fertiliser and chicken feed.
A man walks along the banks of the Ganges River near the city of Kanpur. Black leather trimmings line the banks as they dry and are prepared for being turned into fertiliser and chicken feed.

A smoke stack above a tannery belches out toxic air pollution above the Jajmau area of Kanpur.
A smoke stack above a tannery belches out toxic air pollution above the Jajmau area of Kanpur.

The city is now notorious for having some of the country’s worst water pollution which has been created by the leathery tannery industry which discharges waste water laced with toxic chemicals, such as chromium, freely into local waterways.

This water is used by local people and is channeled onto local farmland, subsequently poisoning the soil, entering the food chain and accumulating in local ecosystems. At greatest risk are the people who work in the tanneries and farmers who work daily with the toxic, and highly acidic water.

An array of health problems now afflict locals who are suffering as a result of the bioaccumulation of dangerous toxins over the past decades. Health problems include cancers, mental health problems, child development issues and skin diseases.

If the film touches you, please help us spread the word about this issue and share through your preferred social network.

Finally, below you can find a short video from the recent DC Environmental film festival where the short-film recently premiered. I took part in a panel discussion with the Pulitzer Center, talking about the making of the film.

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