By official estimates, the tanneries of Dhaka's Hazaribagh neighborhood pump almost 5.8 million gallons of untreated effluent a day into open canals that pour into the Buriganga River and generate more than 100 tons of solid waste in the form of raw hide scraps, flesh, and fat. The tannery effluent, laced with chromium (III) sulfate, sulfuric acid, salts, lime, surfactants, degreasers, ammonium sulfate, and many other chemicals, contaminates the water and river bed and kills aquatic life.
Numerous studies have found highly elevated levels of chromium and other chemicals in the soil and water of Hazaribagh. For years, government officials, citing the planned move to Savar, have openly admitted that they do not enforce environmental regulations in the district.
The Buriganga itself, once the main source of drinking water for Dhaka, has become so polluted by tannery and other industrial and human wastes that it is widely regarded as unsafe for human use — even as the greater metropolitan area of more than 17 million people struggles with episodic droughts and depleted groundwater supplies. Leather scraps accumulate in rotting heaps six feet high along the canals.
In this podcast for Undark, grantees Larry Price and Debbie Price discuss their reporting project on the global leather tanning and textile industries.