Detox Facts

Background - 8 July, 2011
A Greenpeace investigation has uncovered links between a number of major clothing brands and textile factories in China that are releasing hazardous chemicals into the environment. Here are the facts...

The Problem

Clean water is not only a basic human right; it is the world’s most threatened essential resource. The toxic chemicals released by industry into rivers are a threat to both human health and ecosystems.

The Fenghua River is hardly ever golden these days, but rather turbid, black or red depending on the wastewater dumped from the pipe.

  • A recent survey found that water scarcity and water pollution are the two top environmental concerns of the world’s population.
  • The UN estimates that industry is responsible for dumping 300–500 tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other waste into our waters globally each year.
  • As much as 70 percent of China’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs are affected by water pollution.
  • One in four people in China do not have access to clean drinking water.
  • Shanghai’s 20 million residents are dependent on the Yangtze for drinking water. This river has around 30 billion tonnes of wastewater dumped into it every year.
  • 20 percent to 30 percent of all of China’s water pollution is a result of manufacturing goods for export.

The Chemicals

Our investigation found textile facilities in China discharging toxic chemicals into waterways in China. But what’s so worrying about these hazardous substances?

  • Both Alkyphenols and perflorinated chemicals (PFCs) are known hormone disruptors which can be hazardous even at very low levels.
  • These chemicals do not easily break down in the environment and can bioaccumulate through the food chain, ending up in larger doses in large mammals including humans.
  • PFCs have been found present in animals ranging from birds to whales to polar bears and have even been found all over the globe including remote locations such as the Canadian Arctic.
  • While concentrations of PFCs in humans have been falling in the US, they were found to be increasing in China between 1987-2002.
  • PFCs are known to harm development, damage the liver, disrupt hormones and decrease sperm counts.
  • Alkyphenols can affect sexual development, disrupt reproductive systems and impact the immune system.
  • For many chemicals, less hazardous substitutes are available and are already being used by the textile industry in other countries.

The Brands

Leading sportswear brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma have all been linked to facilities that are discharging hazardous chemicals into critical waterways in China. The pollution coming from these facilities – which was uncovered during Greenpeace’s recent investigations – provides a snapshot of the kind of toxic water pollution that is endangering the health of people and threatening critical waterways in China and elsewhere across the globe.

Who will right the future?

These brands talk a big game, touting their environmental records and policies:


The environment is sport’s ultimate playground. At the adidas Group we are committed to environmental leadership and setting the standard for our industry, “Adidas Group Environmental strategy 2015”


[We] push suppliers to use water more efficiently to avoid borrowing more than we need. Returning it clean means that the water we use returns to the community as clean as or cleaner than we found it.
We won’t stop making the best gear to propel humanity forward, without wrecking our global playground in the process. “”


Factories are responsible for ‘harmful substances free’ production. Factories will be held responsible and liable for all loss and damage suffered by PUMA, should any hazardous substances be found in the materials, components or final products. “PUMA, Handbook of Environmental Standards, 2009”

But words aren’t enough. These brands need to take action now and take responsibility for the issue of toxic pollution. The world needs leader and innovators to work together with their suppliers and champion a better way of working. Who will rise to the challenge?


Youngor textiles factory discharges toxic chemicals into Fenghua River.

Brands like Nike, Adidas and Li Ning are in a unique position to affect change. Through the choices they make in the design of their products, and by working with their suppliers, they hold the power to eliminate the use and releases of hazardous chemicals. As influential actors in a broken system it is their responsibility to act. If they say ‘nothing is impossible’, then they should ‘Make the change’ and ‘just do it’!