Most of the dyes used in textile industry are known only by their trade name, while their chemical nature and biological hazards are not known. In the past, fabrics have been dyed with extracts from minerals, plants, and animals. In fact, dyeing historically was a secretive art form; the most beautiful and exotic pigments reserved were for those who had the status to wear them. Things began to change around 1856 when scientists discovered how to make synthetic dyes. Cheaper to produce, brighter, more color-fast, and easy to apply to fabric, these new dyes changed the playing field. This brightly colored, changed new world was not without a down side however, the chemicals used to produce dyes today are often highly toxic, carcinogenic, or even explosive. In addition, other harmful chemicals used in the dying process include:
- Dioxin a carcinogen and possible hormone disrupter.
- Toxic heavy metals such as chrome, copper, and zinc.
Dye chemicals have caused or fueled many dye factory fires through history, including a massive Rhode Island dye factory fire in 2003 in which vast quantities of dye chemicals spilled into the Blackstone River. Moreover, dye chemicals are dangerous to dye workers and they cause environmental pollution from dye factories.
Is there an alternative to synthetic dyes?
The responsible dye manufactures are investigating ways to treat their dye effluent with organic material and bacteria rather than chemical treatments, and improve dye manufacture and processing to minimize hazardous chemical used. The realistic solution to current toxic dyes is likely to be a combination of more responsible synthetic dye production, together with a sustainable development of natural dyes.
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