One of the least-glamorous aspects of the garment industry are the toxic chemicals used to dye textiles. Although support abounds for less-harmful dyes, along with stronger regulations to process the tainted effluent before it’s discharged, hormone-disrupting substances and their ilk continue to find their way into waterways and drinking supplies in countries such as China, India, and Bangladesh. One research student at Lund University in Sweden, however, might hold the key to an environmentally friendly purification process that leaves only clean water behind.
Photo by Britannica
For her doctoral thesis, Maria Jonstrup experimented with both fungal enzymes and bacteria from the drains at textile and municipal wastewater-treatment plants. Although purification techniques generally fall into either the biological or chemical category, it was by combining the two that Jonstrup made a breakthrough.
Although purification techniques generally fall into either the biological or chemical category, it was by combining the two that Jonstrup made a breakthrough.
“First, microorganisms break down the dyes in a reactor,” she explains. “This biological step is the most important. However, to be certain that the water is completely purified, I also use some chemicals. Small amounts of iron and hydrogen peroxide in combination with UV light break down even the most difficult structures.”
So far, Jonstrup’s method has only been tested in the laboratory, but she’s optimistic about its scalability for real-world scenarios. Next, Jonstrup will supervise two master’s students as they spend the next year experimenting with larger volumes of water. They’ll also determine if the UV light in the chemical stage can be replaced with old-fashioned sunlight.
Jonstrup plans on testing her technique “live” at an actual factory. “Through contacts with the Swedish clothing company Indiska Magasinet and [its] suppliers, we have already taken samples and performed tests at a factory in India,” she says. “Because clothing manufacture has received quite a bad reputation over recent years, it can otherwise be quite difficult to gain access to the factories.”
[Via Science Daily]