Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Leather Industry: Hazardous To Both Humans and the Environment

Image:  Tannery in India.  Credit: © Goran Bogicevic
© Goran Bogicevic

When the average U.S. citizen hears the word “leather”, they probably think about nice jackets, shoes, purses, etc.  Little thought would be specifically given to the leather itself or how it goes from being the raw hide of an animal to a finished product.  Most people don’t realize the hazards associated with the leather industry and the impact it has on humans and the environment. 

According to PETA, in its article "Environmental Hazards of Leather", the chemicals used to turn skin into leather, including formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, arsenic, and cyanide-based finishes to name a few, are very dangerous and have been linked to various types of cancer.  Most leather in the U.S. is tanned using chromium, a chemical considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The tanning of leather also takes a big toll on humans.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that leukemia incidents among residents near a Kentucky tannery were five times the national average, and studies of tannery workers in Sweden and Italy found cancer risks being 20-50% higher than expected.

For a detailed article on the different forms and types of leather, and the leather production process, click here.
For a step-by-step introduction to the leather production process, accompanied by visuals for each step, click here.


  1. Riley Tannery was one of the litigants in A Civil Action that was made famous by the Travolta movie, although the book was better. It resulted in at least six deaths from leukemia and many other people with a variety of heath problems. One of the leading carcinogens was trichloroethylene (TCE). It resulted in damages but they probably weren't as serious as they could have been due to legal incompetence and the bias of the judicial system.

    Most cases like this almost certainly wouldn't have gone to trial without the circumstances that involved some degree of wasteful spending that also obtained tests that wouldn't otherwise have happened.

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