India: The Toxic Price of Leather
“The bubbles which you see are contaminated with chromium, and it is very poisonous.”
Standing next to a field of wilted crops near his small village of Payundee, Sonalal Yadav carefully hops over a drainage canal, which is overflowing with white foam.
An acrid stench fills the air as the water below is churned up and funneled through the small channels onto nearby farmland. On its way, vegetation that hangs in the water is beginning to turn a dark brown color, and some plants are completely black.
“This water that you see comes from the tanneries. It goes to the treatment plant and then from the canal, it comes to the fields,” explained Yadev, who is president of the area’s local farmers community. “We were called the ‘Kings of Roses.’ Now, they have totally vanished. Here vegetables have also gone very bad. The vegetables have all become poisonous.”
These tainted fields lie on the outskirts of Kanpur, a small city of some 2.5 million inhabitants, residing on the banks of India’s holiest river, the Ganges. Along these banks, an ecological and health crisis has slowly developed, now engulfing a city that has gained notoriety in recent decades for the rise of its most successful export, leather.