Barbie, H&M jeans, everyday corn- just some of the products recalled due to controls on the use of dangerous chemicals. Now a wave of toxicity cases is calling to account cheap manufacture in countries without chemical controls. We follow the toxic trail from field worker - to customs official - to high street shopper. How much can we trust the products in our family homes?
In Hamburg, the third largest port in Europe, Professor Bauer addresses the disgruntled members of the Dutch Transport Union. ‘Containers coming in with toxins should be marked’ he says ‘but nobody enforces this - those who break the regulations are not punished.’ Suddenly a port worker collapses: he has been exposed to toxins and his brain has suffered serious long-term damage. ‘It’s difficult to continue after this event’ the professor says ‘but it shows more than I could ever tell you. Millions of workers are in danger.’
‘If you were to breath in the air from this container you would seriously harm yourself’ says the chief safety inspector at Hamburg port. Methal Bromide is outlawed in Europe, but it arrives here regularly. Tracing the container back to Hong Kong, the compulsory fumigation of products before shipping, is revealed as a hazard in itself. ‘All of my colleagues here had the same problem’ says one fumigator ‘After four years I’m so sick that I can barely come to work’.
More hazardous still is the manufacture. ‘Once I was unconscious in hospital for two weeks’ says one Indian field worker ‘but I survived and we have no choice but to spray when the worms come’. In India’s cotton belt, more pesticides are used than in any other country in the world and highly toxic and often cancerous chemicals can be bought from the local shop.