Fukushima plant is dumping nuclear waste into ocean on a daily basis; “There’s no foreseeable end to it… and nobody has any good ideas on how to stop it”

By ENENewsAsahi Shimbun, Oct 26, 2015 (emphasis added): [TEPCO announced] the construction of seaside walls to block radiation-contaminated groundwater from seeping into the sea has been completed at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant… TEPCO officials said the underground walls will reduce the daily flow of contaminated groundwater into the sea from the previous estimated 400 tons to 10 tons. However, they said it will take a month or two to confirm the effectiveness of the barriers.

Japan Times, Oct 26, 2015: Tepco hopes the wall will significantly reduce the amount of contaminated water that has continued to flow into the Pacific more than four years after the 2011 meltdown crisis… 400 tons of groundwaterwas draining along the sides of the buildings and into the sea each day, after being contaminated with fallout from the 2011 meltdown crisis, according Tepco. The utility says an estimated 150 tons of underground water is still flowing into the basements of the damaged reactor buildings each day… Recent tests of water samples from the nearby sea have detected radioactive substances such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, but scientists have said the density is so low that it poses no immediatedanger to human health. Yet, the ongoing flow of tainted water from the plant has raised anxiety and concerns among local fishermen and many consumers across the country. Tepco plans to keep monitoring the density of radioactive materials in the nearby sea over the next month. To isolate the four reactor buildings from the underground water, Tepco hopes to freeze the soil around them… The Nuclear Regulation Authority has yet to give permission for the operation, saying creation of frozen soil could drastically change the underground water level around the plant. If the water level outside falls lower than that inside, the contaminated water could leak out. Meanwhile, Tepco has not explained exactly how it will control the water levels, an NRA official said.

Dr. Keith Baverstock, former World Health Organization regional adviser for radiation and public health, published Oct 23, 2015 (at 37:00 in): “I’m reallyappalled at the way the international system has failed… Quite frankly, we don’t get anything through the media… There is no general understanding of the situation here in Europe, because the media are not putting this view forward. In fact, I think many people would be very surprised that it was still  a matter for discussion. They would be even more surprised to learn that it’s still an ongoing accident, and that it hasn’t terminated yet. They’d be even more surprised that nobody has any good ideas on how to stop it. So this is a very big black point… for the nuclear industry — that they can cause a situation like this, where there’sno foreseeable end to it. It’s against international law to dump radioactivity into the sea, but that is precisely what is happening on a daily basis.”

Watch Baverstock’s presentation here

  1. Officials have “admitted failure” at Fukushima plant — Giving up on attempts “to prevent highly contaminated water from pouring into ocean” — Regulator asks “What was all the trouble over the past months for?” — Gov’t experts worried cement barrier is going to crack (VIDEO) November 23, 2014
  2. Engineer: Outright failures continue to plague Fukushima plant — “Public may think worst is over… Nothing could be further from the truth” — Japan TV: New method failing to stop flow of highly contaminated water — Experts: ‘Diluting’ radiation in ocean adds to danger; Spreading it out only makes health damages worse (VIDEO)January 12, 2015
  3. NHK: Attempts to stop Fukushima contamination flowing into ocean have failed — Japan Nuclear Expert: “Most likely flowing fairly quickly into sea” from nearby Reactor No. 2 September 11, 2013
  4. TV: Fukushima underground dam not working, radiation levels now exceeding gov’t limit near shore — Tepco Official: “The flow of contaminated water into ocean is causing problems… It’s quite difficult to stop” (VIDEO) February 9, 2014
  5. Japan Expert: Contamination from Fukushima is traveling “under the seabed” and spreading further out in Pacific Ocean — Measures needed to stop flow September 3, 2013

Sick Sophistry – BBC News On The Afghan Hospital ‘Mistakenly’ Bombed By The United States

In Media Lens ALERTS 2015

One of the defining features of the corporate media is that Western crimes are ignored or downplayed. The US bombing of a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on the night of October 3, is an archetypal example.

At least twenty-two people were killed when a United States Air Force AC-130 repeatedly attacked the hospital with five strafing runs over the course of more than an hour, despite MSF pleas to Afghan, US and Nato officials to call off the attack. The hospital’s main building, which contains the emergency operating room and recovery rooms, was heavily damaged. Dave Lindorff noted:

‘the hospital was deliberately set ablaze by incendiary weapons, and the people inside not incinerated were killed by a spray of bullets and anti-personnel flechettes.’

Lindorff added:

‘The AC-130 gunship is not a precision targeting weapon, but a weapons system designed to spread death over a wide swath.’

Shockingly, MSF had already informed US military forces of the precise coordinates of the hospital in order to prevent any attacks. Indeed, the hospital is:

‘a well-known and long-established institution with a distinctive shape operating in a city that until recently was under full [Afghan] government control. That the US/NATO command did not clearly know the function of that structure is inconceivable.’

MSF were unequivocal in their condemnation of the American attack. The hospital was ‘intentionally targeted’ in ‘a premeditated massacre’.  It was, they said, a ‘war crime’. The organisation rejected US assurances of three inquiries – by the US, Nato and the Afghan government. Instead, MSF demanded an independent international investigation.

In the days following the attack, the US changed its official story several times. At one point, as Glenn Greenwald observes, the dominant narrative from the US and its Afghan allies was that the bombing had not been an accident, but that it had been justified because the Taliban had been using the hospital as a base; an outrageous claim that MSF vehemently rejected. It was even reported that an American tank had later forced its way into the hospital compound, potentially destroying evidence of the war crime that had just taken place.

Yes, the bombing was reported in the ‘mainstream’ media; sometimes with harrowing footage of ruined hospital corridors and rooms. Hospital beds were even shown where patients had burned to death. But the US bombing did not receive the extensive headline coverage and editorial outrage that it deserved.

If you are unsure of that, just imagine the response of the British media if it had been a Russian gunship that had bombed a hospital with the loss of 22 lives, despite pleas from doctors to call off the attack. Western leaders would have instantly condemned the Russian bombing as a ‘war crime’, and the corporate media would have taken their lead from the pronouncements coming out of the offices of power in Washington and London.

By contrast, we have not found a single editorial in any UK national newspaper condemning the US bombing of the hospital or calling for an independent investigation. This is one more example of the dramatic subservience of the corporate media to the state and indeed its long-term complicity in state crimes against humanity.

In the meantime, with nothing to say on Kunduz, the Guardian has found space to publish editorials onhoverboards and the Great British Bakeoff, as well as Guardian editor Katharine Viner’s ‘grilling’ of George Osborne at the Tory party conference. To compound the paper’s ignominy, it still proudly carries Tony Blair in its Comment section where it describes him merely as ‘a former British prime minister’, rather than the notorious and unpopular war criminal he so clearly is. That accurate description is only emphasised by the weekend’s revelations of a memo written by Colin Powell, then George Bush’s US Secretary of State, that Blair had pledged his support for a US invasion of Iraq fully one year in advance, even while telling Parliament and the country that a ‘diplomatic solution’ was still being sought.

 Sopel’s ‘Mistake’

On BBC News at Ten on October 15, 2015, BBC North America correspondent Jon Sopel told viewers over footage of the ravaged Kunduz hospital that it had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’. Not intentionally bombed, as MSF were saying, but ‘mistakenly bombed’. BBC News were thereby adopting the Pentagon perspective presented earlier by General John Campbell, the US senior commander in Afghanistan, when he claimed that:

‘A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility’.

In fact, the US has done so before, many times. In November 2003, the first target of the huge American ground assault on Fallujah, following several weeks of bombing, was the city’s General Hospital. This was a ‘war crime’, Noam Chomsky noted, and it was even depicted on the front page of the New York Times, but without it being labelled or recognised as such by the paper:

‘the front page of the world’s leading newspaper was cheerfully depicting war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to severe penalties under U.S. law, the death penalty if patients ripped from their beds and manacled on the floor happened to die as a result.’

Going further back in time, US veterans of the Vietnam war have reported that hospitals in Cambodia and Laos were ‘routinely listed’ among targets to be struck by American forces. In 1973, Newsweekmagazine quoted a former US army intelligence analyst saying that:

‘The bigger the hospital, the better it was’.

And now, in the case of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, Associated Press reported that:

‘US analysts knew Afghan site was hospital’.

Moreover, it has since emerged that the American crew of the AC-130 gunship even questionedwhether it was legal to attack the hospital.

Our repeated challenges on Twitter to Sopel and his BBC News editor Paul Royall were ignored. Is this really how senior BBC professionals should behave when publicly questioned about a serious breach of impartiality? Simply deign not to answer?

However, one of our readers emailed Sopel and did extract a remarkable response from the BBC North America correspondent which was kindly forwarded to us.

Sopel wrote in his email:

‘At this stage whether the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz was deliberate or accidental is the subject of an investigation – and I know there are doubts about the independence of the inquiry – but what it most certainly WAS was mistaken. Given the outrage the bombing has provoked, the humiliating apology it has forced the US into, the PR disaster it has undoubtedly been, how can anyone describe it as anything other than mistaken? If I had used the word accidentally you might have had a point.’

But this is, at best, disingenuous nonsense from Sopel. Most people watching his piece, and hearing him say that the hospital had been ‘mistakenly bombed by the Americans’, would have assumed he meant that the Americans had not intended to bomb the hospital rather than that bombing the hospital was misguided.

As we saw above, the notion that US forces did not know the target was a hospital is the Pentagon propaganda claim, and is not the view of MSF. Moreover, it contradicts the evidence that was both available at the time of Sopel’s BBC News report and what has since come to light (that the US aircrew actually questioned the legality of the strike on a hospital). Christopher Stokes, general director of MSF, told Associated Press that the US bombing was ‘no mistake’.

‘The extensive, quite precise destruction of this hospital … doesn’t indicate a mistake. The hospital was repeatedly hit’.

The rest of Sopel’s remarks in the exchange are irrelevant (the bravery of war journalists), verging on cringeworthy (his proud support of MSF with a standing order).

Sopel’s attempt to exploit ‘the outrage’, ‘the humiliating apology’ and ‘the PR disaster’ to justify his use of ‘mistakenly bombed’ is desperate sophistry. Is he really trying to say that a war crime is ‘mistaken’ because it is a ‘PR disaster’, requiring a ‘humiliating apology’?

Perhaps the airstrike was a ‘mistake’ in much the same way that the killing of eight Afghan schoolboys by US-led troops in 2009 was a ‘mistake’? This was a ‘mistake’ that Nato brushed away with payments of $2,000 for each dead child, in a kind of macabre ‘fire sale’.

Perhaps the airstrike was a ‘mistake’ in much the same way as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in the eyes of Bridget Kendall, the BBC diplomatic correspondent. She declared on BBC News at Six:

‘There’s still bitter disagreement over invading Iraq. Was it justified or a disastrous miscalculation?’ (BBC1, March 20, 2006)

That the Iraq invasion was, in fact, an illegal and immoral war of aggression – indeed, the ‘supreme international crime’ judged by the Nuremberg standard of war crimes – was not a permissible description for BBC News.

But that is the ideological norm shaping corporate media output and ‘mainstream’ debate. Western political and military leaders may occasionally make ‘mistakes’ or ‘disastrous miscalculations’. But their essential intent is always honourable: to ‘keep the Taliban at bay’ (Sopel again), to destroy Islamic State or to ‘bring peace to the Middle East’.

We asked John Pilger to comment on Jon Sopel’s report for BBC News and his subsequent remarks on email. Pilger told us (via email, October 19, 2015):

‘Serious journalism is about trying to set the record straight with compelling evidence. What is striking about Jon Sopel’s report is that he offers not a glimpse of journalistic evidence to support his assertion that the US attack on the hospital was “mistaken” – thus calling into question facts presented by MSF: facts that have not been refuted and he makes no attempt to refute. Neither is the dissembling by the US military challenged by Sopel. Instead, he is “certain” the attack was mistaken. What is the basis of his “certainty”? He doesn’t say; and he clearly feels under no compulsion to say. Instead, in full defensive cry, he tells us what an experienced frontline reporter he is, implying that his word is enough. Well, I have reported more wars than Sopel has had White House briefings, and I know – as he knows – that journalism of this kind is no more than a feeble echo of the official line. He does reveal his agency by telling us – quite unabashed — that President Obama has “very little option” but to continue his campaign of destruction in Afghanistan. Some might call this apologetics; actually, it’s anti-journalism.’

Perhaps it is not surprising that the header photo at the top of Sopel’s Twitter page should show him listening respectfully to US President Obama. The tragic irony is that Obama, the 2009 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has just committed a war crime in bombing Médecins Sans Frontières, the 1999 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

DC

Suggested Action

If you decide to contact a journalist in response to our alert, please keep the tone civil. We do not condone abusive language.

Jon Sopel, BBC North America correspondent
Email: jon.sopel@bbc.co.uk
Twitter: @BBCJonSopel

Paul Royall, editor of both BBC News at Six and News at Ten
Email: paul.royall@bbc.co.uk
Twitter: @paulroyall

Please forward any replies to us:
editor@medialens.org

“Palestinian Child Bleeds To Death While Israeli Police & Civilians Watch, Shouting Insults”

“Die, you son of a whore!! Die!!” shouted Israeli men at a seriously wounded Palestinian child, who was left to die while police stood around him doing nothing. One of the officers repeatedly pushed the boy down with his foot, whenever he tried to sit up.

manasra_ahmad13

“Die, you son of a whore!! Die!!” shouted Israeli men at a seriously wounded Palestinian child, who was left to die while police stood around him doing nothing. One of the officers repeatedly pushed the boy down with his foot, whenever he tried to sit up.

While the child was bleeding to death, Israelis surrounded him, shouting at him in a mix of Arabic and Hebrew, “Die, you son of a whore!”, “Die, you son of the biggest whore!”, and telling the police to “Do him a favor, and shoot him in the head!”

The officers did not shoot him, but left him bleeding with head injuries, broken legs and other serious injuries on the ground. The boy was able to raise his head a few times, but the police officers kicked him back down until he bled to death.

The slain Palestinian child has been identified as Hasan Khaled Manasra, 15 years of age, while his cousin Ahmad Saleh Manasra, 13, suffered a serious injury. They are both from Beit Hanina, in Jerusalem.

The incident took place near Pisgat Zeev Israeli settlement, in occupied Jerusalem. The police claimed that the boys stabbed two settlers, wounding them.

A settler who chased the boys with his car also rammed Ahmad. But the police presented no evidence to connect the two children with the crime that they claimed the boys committed.

The following are some of the insults and curses hurled at the seriously wounded child before he died (warning: strong language):

“Die you fucker, die you son of a whore, die you son of a bitch…”
“Shoot him in the head, this son of a bitch”
“Die you son of a whore”
“Die you son of a bitch”
“Shoot him in the head, shoot him in the head!”
“Shoot him in the head, do him a favor”

The police eventually approached the Israelis, including the one who apparently was filming, and “asked them not to approach.”

Palestinian Presidency spokesperson, Nabil Abu Rodeina, said the execution of the child is an ugly Israeli crime committed by Israel in violation of every legal and humanitarian law, and demanded the apprehension of those responsible for his death.

He added that “If Israel continues its policies and violations, the entire region will reach a situation that cannot be contained, and everybody will pay a high price for that.”

Since October 1st, when two Israelis were killed in a ‘lone wolf’ attack by a Palestinian in Jerusalem, 26 Palestinians have been killed, including a pregnant woman and her two-year old child killed in an Israeli bombing on Sunday morning. Over 1200 Palestinians have been injured, many of them hit by live ammunition fired by Israeli troops at Palestinian demonstrators armed only with stones.

During that time period, no Israelis have been killed beyond the two who died in the October 1st attack, but six have been wounded in alleged attacks by Palestinians. No Palestinian faction has claimed responsibility for any attack, and it appears that the Palestinians who wounded Israelis were acting on their own.

In addition, Israeli authorities have been revealed on several occasions to have lied about the Palestinians they have killed – claiming falsely that the Palestinians had been attempting to stab or attack Israelis, but eyewitness and video evidence disproved this claim in a number of cases.

 manasra_ahmad.jpg

NPR fails to mention occupation– while Barghouti says in Guardian it is ‘root cause’ of violence

At a time when violence is flaring between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, Americans are being deprived of crucial information about the conflict. Our press portrays the clashes as a cycle of violence between two groups with ancient enmity; and while there is some truth in that description, it is vacuous if reporters fail to describe the power balance here. At the very least, reporters should say that the violence is taking place in the context of a 48-year-old military occupation of Palestinian lands by Israelis.

Today National Public Radio did a piece on the latest violence in Israel and Palestine and referred again and again to events in occupied territory, but never provided that simple fact to readers. Host David Greene began by saying that the latest stabbing took place “just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.” Yes: it took place in occupied East Jerusalem, at the Damascus Gate. Palestinians who live there can’t even vote for the government that controls their lives.

NPR’s correspondent Emily Harris reported that the stabbing “didn’t come out of nowhere. There are always tensions simmering at some level here, though it does go up and down.” The ancient enmity idea. Then she referred to the murderous arson attack in a “Palestinian village last summer.” That July 31 attack was inside the occupied territories, and said to be perpetrated by Israeli colonists. She didn’t say so.

Harris went on to talk about the dispute over access to the Holy Sanctuary, or Temple Mount, in occupied Jerusalem. Again, not a word about occupation, and religious zealots were made out to be “interested” in equal rights:

Jewish groups that are interested in expanding Jewish rights on the Holy site

Harris spoke of Israeli security forces’ efforts to “figure out how to respond to” Palestinian attacks; again, not a word about their being occupiers. And spoke of the killing of an Israeli couple “in the West Bank” and another stabbing at “a checkpoint.” That couple were settlers killed deep in the occupied West Bank. Checkpoints exist to enforce an occupation.

The terrible paradox here is that other parts of the world are getting this information. In today’s Guardian, imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti writes that the occupation is the root cause of the violence:

Imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti on Sunday delivered an impassioned plea to the international community to tackle the root causes of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, as he praised the “new Palestinian generation” for resisting the Israeli occupation.

In an article for the Guardian written from his cell in Hadarim prison – his first for an international publication since 2002 at the height of the second intifada – Barghouti said he was pleading with the world as then to “to deal with [the violence’s] root causes: denial of Palestinian freedom”…

Here are excerpts of Barghouti’s op-ed:

“This new Palestinian generation has not awaited reconciliation talks to embody a national unity political parties have failed to achieve, rising beyond political divides and geographic fragmentation.

“It has not awaited instructions to uphold its right, and its duty, to resist this occupation. It is doing so unarmed, while being confronted by one of the biggest military powers in the world….

“The escalation did not start with the killing of two Israeli settlers [in the West Bank]. It started a long while ago and has been going on for years. Every day there are Palestinians killed, wounded, arrested.

“Every day colonialism advances, the siege on our people in Gaza continues, oppression and humiliation persist. As many want us today to be overwhelmed by the potential consequences of a new spiral of violence, I will continue, as I did back in 2002, pleading to deal with its root causes: denial of Palestinian freedom…

“Some suggested that the reason why a peace deal could not be reached was late President Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness or President Mahmoud Abbas’s inability, while both of them were ready and able to sign a peace agreement.

“The real problem is that Israel has chosen occupation over peace and used negotiations as a smoke screen to advance its colonial project. All governments across the globe know this simple fact and yet so many of them pretend that returning to the failed recipes of the past could allow us to achieve freedom and peace.”

Shouldn’t NPR be reflecting this perspective? Any Palestinian would describe the conflict in these terms, if not so eloquently. They just want their freedom.

Finally, look at this report from South Africa:

“Apartheid in South Africa was a picnic compared to what we have seen in the occupied territories,” Parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete said following a visit to Palestine.

A picnic compared to South African apartheid. I was told very much the same thing nine years ago in Hebron by a South African church worker. Jimmy Carter tried to tell Americans Palestine was headed for apartheid that same year and was slamdunked by Terry Gross for the analogy. Charney Bromberg regretfully told a Columbia audience it is apartheid, The Nation has said it’s “apartheid on steroids,” even Jeffrey Goldberg has said it’s apartheid but “temporary” or “provisional.” When will our press decide that the public is adult enough to hear this truth? I do believe that #BlackLivesMatter is our greatest ally in this discursive struggle, because its efforts have been treated fairly, even sympathetically by many NPR journalists, including Arun Rath and Audie Cornish.

Thanks to James North.

Israeli forces have killed 25 Palestinians since the beginning of October

 

After 1,000 Palestinians Wounded, 24 Killed, Hillary Clinton Laments Only Israeli Deaths

She weighed in on this violence by essentially forgetting that the Palestinian casualties of this violence even exist.

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listens to a speaker during the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York September 24, 2014

The past two weeks have seen enormous clashes in the Holy Land, with a wave of violence between Palestinians primarily in the occupied West Bank but also in Gaza clashing with Israeli soldiers, settlers, and civilians.

The violence has many believing that a third Palestinian intifada, uprising against the occupation, is brewing. This uprising is taking a different form, with Hamas in Gaza and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank both sitting out the fighting. Rather, young Palestinians are self-organizing as part of raucous protests, while others have, in frustration, engaged in knife attacks against Israeli civilians which have spread fear and terror.

Last night, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton weighed in on this violence by essentially forgetting that the Palestinian casualties of this violence even exist:

Here are some of the facts of what has happened to Palestinians during the past two weeks:

  • The Wounded: Over 1,000 Palestinians have been reported woundedsince October 1st.
  • The Dead: 28 Palestinians have perished as of this writing. They include a pregnant mother killed in an airstrike, and a group of protesters who were shot with live ammunition.
  • Attacked By Settlers: Although the Israeli settlement movement is not employed by the Israeli government, it is shielded by it, with settlers often attacking Palestinians with Israeli soldiers at their flank. October saw a spike in attacks by settlers, with 130 logged in the month so far. The PLO has charted this:

It is not incredibly surprising that Clinton would posture as pro-Israel – she isseeking the support of one of her long-time funders, Haim Saban, an Israeli-American who is a strong supporter of the Israeli government. However, writing the Palestinians out of her statement altogether is a step the U.S. government itself rarely takes, and may be a sign that she is trying to distance herself from President Obama, who has been criticized for his few moments of disagreement with Israel’s government.

Nobody expects the Republicans to speak up for the Palestinians, but it is disappointing that Clinton’s rival Bernie Sanders has not put out any statements on this issue over the past two weeks, despite his words many years ago condemning Israel for the exact same sort of behavior it is conducting right now.

Your organic cotton tee-shirt probably poisoned a river in Asia

by

Dyed yarn hanging on a fence at the Jubilee Farm in Snoqualmie, part of a class on using natural plant dyes. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Dyed yarn hanging on a fence at the Jubilee Farm in Snoqualmie, part of a class on using natural plant dyes. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

Your soft cotton tee shirt is the ultimate warm fuzzy. Snuggling gratefully into its soft fibers, you feel virtuous about buying a product that was made of natural organic materials. Think of all those barrels of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that weren’t sprayed on foreign cotton fields thanks to you. Think of the smiling cotton farmers in Turkey and India growing those pure white organic tufts for you to snuggle into.

Sigh.

Bet you a tidy sum that the label boasting of organic fiber on that shirt says nothing about the luscious color. And for good reason.

We tend to be blissfully unaware of the myriad health problems attributed to the textile dyeing process, as most of our clothing is not from around here.

Yet somewhere in India, a river runs fluorescent pink. Or electric blue, or tangerine orange.

Perhaps the most infamous of these is India’s Noyyal River, which carries toxin-dense waste water from factories in Tirupur — a metropolis also known as “Knit City.” The effluent resulting from dyeing that imported cotton shirt you love pours from the dyeing plant into the Noyyal and other Indian and Chinese streams and rivers, carrying with it toxic chemicals – cancer-causing cadmium, lead, chromium, mercury, and more.

A Japanese-owned textile dyeing facility in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area in Northeastern China. (Photo from Flickr by Matthew Stinson)
A Japanese-owned textile dyeing facility in the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area in Northeastern China. (Photo from Flickr by Matthew Stinson)

But one Seattle woman believes that we don’t have to pay such a heavy price for our penchant for color, and she is sharing her passion for plant-based, low-water dyes, adding to a “slow clothing” movement.

On a sunny recent August afternoon, Kathy Hattori leads a small band of acolytes to the cutting flower garden on Jubilee Farm, an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) grower in Washington state’s fertile Snoqualmie valley.

She stops in front of a backdrop of enormous sunflowers and faces her students from behind a row of blanket-flowers, a daisy-like bloom glowing with streaks of orange, gold, pink, and coral. “Gaillardia,” she pronounces. “Let’s cut these – we should get some good color.”

The gloved throng bends to gather the bright flower heads, filling baskets.

Despite the jeans and encyclopedic knowledge of plant-based dyes, Hattori’s past career was rooted not in textiles or art but in the corporate world.

“The specter of Death drove me from the high-tech world,” she joked in an earlier interview.

A degree in environmental studies originally led to a job with the EPA. Her administrative flair led to a highly-paid but draining stint in the Silicon Valley. But discontent with the unfulfilling work led her to establish a new life in Seattle.

Leveraging her business background and following a long-time love of textiles, Hattori went to work for a natural dye company. There she became aware of the toxicity bedeviling conventional clothing. It was the 2005 GreenPeace report, “Toxic Threads” that galvanized her explorations with natural dyes.

Kathy Hattori at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Kathy Hattori at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

She learned about places like “Knit City,” where about a third of nearby villagers find themselves suffering from a range of ailments attributed to dye-related pollution, including gastritis, joint pain, and more.

Azo dyes, which are used for about 70% of textiles made, carry significant health and cancer risk, as do other chemicals used in the process like benzidine, pthalates, and formaldehyde.

Large amounts of precious potable water in clothing producing countries like China, India, and Bangladesh, is diverted from human and animal use, to be used in the dyeing process and then released back into streams. Neighboring farmland can be rendered unusable, exacting a heavy toll on health, livelihoods, and the environment.

The clothing produced arrives in the shopping bags of first world consumers with toxic residue, continuing the threat of toxic run-off to our own local water supplies. This is particularly concerning with regard to children’s clothing.

“I’d known that there were some pretty aggressive chemicals in the textile dyeing industry,” Hattori said. “But I didn’t realize just how toxic the substances are, and I hadn’t known about the amount of effluent produced and the enormous amount of water used in these processes. It had a huge effect on me.”

In 2010, she formed her own company, Botanical Colors, producing natural dyes for hobbyists and eventually for the fashion industry.

“I now work with small designers,” Hattori told me. “Younger designers are frustrated by not being able to make sustainable designs.”

Yarns dyed with natural indigo hang on a tree at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Yarns dyed with natural indigo hang on a tree at the Jubilee Farm. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

To that end, Hattori collaborates with New York design house Eileen Fisher, overdyeing gently-used clothing for Eileen Fisher’s clothing recycling initiative, Green Eileen.

Re-sellers like Green Eileen address a related concern of Hattori’s: the impact of the enormous amount of clothing we purchase in the developed world — as much as 70 pieces of clothing per person per year, by some estimates.

Producing dyes in bulk is a part of Hattori’s commitment to sustainability.

“National brands find it difficult to adapt to using natural dyes, but many of them have committed to fix their supply chains by 2020. I want to figure out how to bring the process to the point where it is practical for them to use; to be an evangelist,” she said as we sat in her Ballard facility. “If I can get their attention and then their buy-in, we can start to make a change. But natural dyes are challenging to mass-produce. You never eat the same piece of spinach twice, and it’s that way with natural dyes.”

But by accumulating large quantities over a season, maintaining disciplined procedures, and exercising her artistry – assessing and modifying the color as her eye tells her – Hattori is succeeding. Well-known Dharma Trading Company, a California-based fiber art supply company, now uses Hattori as one of their suppliers.

Even so, Hattori keeps what she calls “a visceral attraction to the work of the hand” at top of mind, accepting teaching requests in an ever-wider geographical range. That is how we find ourselves in that idyllic field, dipping organic and locally-raised wool into pots of water infused with color from blanket flowers, marigolds, and cochineal insects. Blouses, wool skeins, and even canvas shoes find their way into vats of indigo. As we lift out skeins of wool, now glowing with intense yellows, oranges, reds, and delicate green, depending on the ingredient, I ask Michael Fromberger, a Google programmer, what has drawn him to this decidedly low-tech pastime.

“I think that through human history, we’ve been surrounded by plants and used them in all kinds of ways. Now we seem aware of only a small number, and we think of them only as food,” he muses. “What I enjoy about this is that it reminds me that we’re not so alien from the natural world, and I love having this skill.”

Melissa Bob, a student in Hattori's class, cuts flowers for textile dyeing. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)
Melissa Bob, a student in Hattori’s class, cuts flowers for textile dyeing. (Photo by Carolyn Higgins)

Melissa Bob, an artist of Coast Salish heritage who has also joined the class, wanted to learn the methods her ancestors used to create their distinctive textiles and adapt them to her own work. Beth Murphy, herself a knitwear designer, and Jade Getz, an artist and photographer, are interested in sustainable clothing and art. Enthusiasts of the Fiber Shedmovement, which is dedicated to locally and sustainably-produced clothing, they were keen to expand their skills to produce and enhance fibers for their art and their clothing. Several participants likened the growing movement to the organic food crusade of a generation ago.

Anna Dianich, owner of Tolt Yarn and Wool, which offered the class, underscored that commitment.

“People like to know the farmer when it comes to yarn and natural dyeing goes along with that,” she said. She sees evidence of that in registrations for the classes offered by Tolt; summer classes generally fill slowly but Kathy Hattori’s natural dyeing and indigo classes filled almost immediately.

As we spoke, the gathering of artists, and hobbyists lay freshly dyed clothing on the grass under a late summer sun. On the other side of the earth, workers in China and India – and increasingly, in other less industrialized Asian countries – were laboring among vats of synthetic dyes laced with toxins. That’s what Kathy Hattori wants to change.

“Someone dying for my clothing is wrong,” she says.