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Pollution of leather industry in Belém, Brazil


The increasing leather industry in Brazil is killing the local environment. Workers in this industry are impacted by toxins and chemicals; waste disposals are rejected to the rivers and environment. China and India are world leaders in this industry, but in the past few decades, Brazil is increasing its production.

 In Icoaraci (State of Belem) more than 130 000 people are exposed to toxic materials due to the leather industry, the firms Fênix Curtidora, Curtume Idea and Curtume Couro Norte are rejecting their toxic materials to the igarapé Piraíba. (An igarapé is a small branch or canal in a river). This toxicity has already been proved by the State Public Ministery and in collaboration with Instituto de Pesquisas Científicas e Tecnológicas do Estado do Pará (IEPA). The leather comes from cattle, sheep, or even alligators. Since 2004, communities have made claims against these enterprises denouncing bad smells, water contamination and some impacts in their health. One of the studies from researchers shows that one toxic element used in the leather preparation process is chromium which is irritant, affecting the upper respiratory tract, obstructing air ducts, and increasing the chances of developing lung, nasal, or sinus cancer. Is linked with asthma, bronchitis, polyps of the upper respiratory tract and pharyngitis. In 2005, because of the pressured by community associations in Icoaraci, the Executive Secretariat of Science, Technology and Environment (SECTAM) sent technicians to inspect the Leather tanneries (Fenix, Ideal and Norte). Due to the results SECTAM began to oversee the activity. After this, University of Pará collaborated with the firms to provide technical solutions to decrease pollution. But, according with the Icoaraci residents (who have fought for many years) the government needs to be stricter in the adoption of measures to combat pollution caused by tanneries in the rivers. In addition to the chemicals, they dennounced animal fat that pollutes and causes intense odor of rotting flesh around and at great distances. 

Basic Data

NamePollution of leather industry in Belém, Brazil
Site Icoaraci, Belém
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Manufacturing activities
Specific CommoditiesLeather
Industrial waste

Project Details and Actors

Project Details15.946 million square meters of leather were exported in April 2016, growth of 2.3% in comparison to 2015 ( Centre for the Brazilian Tanning Industry).

China and Hong Kong, Italy, US, Vietnam and Hungary are the main buyers of Brazilian leather.

Tanning one ton of hide typically results in 20 to 80 cubic meters of wastewater with Chromium concentrations around 250 mg/L and sulfide concentrations at roughly 500 mg/L
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population130,000
Start Date05/2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesFênix Curtidora Ltda from Brazil
Curtume Idea from Brazil
Curtume Couro Norte from Brazil
Relevant government actorsSecretaria de Estado Ciência Tecnologia Meio Ambiente (SECTAM) , Prefeitura Municipal de Belém (local government),Ministério Público do Estado (MPE), Brazilian Tanning Industries (CICB), Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade (MDIC),
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersSupporters: Instituto de Pesquisas Científicas e Tecnológicas do Estado do Pará (IEPA), Centro de Perícias Científicas Renato Chaves,

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LOW (some local organising)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationCommunity-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts
Potential: Deaths
OtherContamination by chrome from the tanneries
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The mobilization of the communities and the scientific studies concluded that there is an impact from tanneries on the environment and on the human health. However, the companies are still operating. The Executive Secretariat of Science, Technology and Environment (SECTAM) improved its regulations but this is not enough according to residents.

Sources and Materials


Geoelectric characterization of the tannery area located in the industrial district of Icoaraci, Belem-Para. Article in Revista Brasileira de Geofísica 24(4):467-481 · October 2006



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How Leather Is Slowly Killing the People and Places That Make It

SECAM começa a monitorar curtumes

Brazilian leather exports continue upward trajectory

Icoaraci discute questões ambientais

Mapa da Injustiça Ambiental da FIOCRUZ

How Leather Is Slowly Killing the People and Places That Make It

Media Links

Curtume estaria causando poluição ambiental e riscos à vida dos moradores de Icoaraci

Other Documents

Meta Information

ContributorENVJustice Project (G.N)
Last update28/10/2016