“Distressed” jeans are commonly made by blasting the denim with silica (pictured above) after it has been pressurized into miniscule dust particles. But this fashion trend has been lethal for workers in denim sandblasting factories around the world. In Turkey, İdris Oral has become the 50th factory worker to die from inhaling too much silica dust, according to Bianet Independent Media. The 28-year-old spent the last two months of his life at the hospital in his home district of Bingöl, in southeastern Turkey: a province where there are 320 other known cases of silicosis.
In Turkey alone, there are estimated to be 4,000 denim workers afflicted by silicosis.
While silicosis can affect all who work with stone, such as miners and stonecutters, sandblasters are prone to a particularly acute and deadly form of the disease. Dental aesthetic prosthetic technicians also contract silicosis at an alarmingly high rate; an Istanbul health council reports that 10 percent of that workforce suffers from silicosis or asthma.
Doctors have known the risks of denim sandblasting for the past eight years. In the United States and most of Europe, the process is forbidden because of the risks. But the Turkish Ministry of Health only banned the use of silica in textile production in 2009. Most denim factories in Turkey are located in the country’s poorer southeast, a region that many complain is neglected by the national government.
That was too late for Oral and the thousands of other workers who had already contracted the disease, however. Oral is said to have fallen ill with it in 2005.
How to eradicate silicosis?
Silicosis is untreatable. But there is hope for the millions of factory workers around the world who haven’t yet contracted it.
As Green Prophet’s Tafline Laylin reported in August, high-end clothing company Versace agreed to stop selling sandblasted jeans last year, caving to pressure from multiple fair trade and public interest groups.
A host of other clothing companies, however, including Armani, Dolce & Gabana, and Matalan, continue to sell the lethal pants.
You can help stop silicosis from claiming more lives by not purchasing sandblasted jeans, and telling your friends about their true cost.
Because fashion is never worth a human life.
Read more about the dangers of jeans production and silica around the world:
Image via Colin ZHU