Sunday, 30 December 2007

who makes procion mx?

When I started working in batik back in Britain I contacted ICI to ask about the safe use and disposal of Procion MX dyes (ICI created them back in the mid-1950s, and in 1991 was still manufacturing them). The then ICI Colours SHE (safe health and environment?) Adviser wrote back with good general advice, along with an assumption that disposal to the sewer in the small quantities I was likely to be using wouldn't be problematic. The adviser also offered to supply the safety data sheets for each individual dye I had.

When these arrived someone I knew working at Severn-Trent Water, and later on someone else at the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency), looked over the data and interpreted it for me. Both said that in the low dilutions I was using Procions, there was no potential harm to aquatic life. If the dye was mixed as a sludge then that was a different matter, Procion is then toxic enough to kill fish. But essentially, the dilute batik doses were of little environmental consequence (at least to fish - my assumption not theirs).

And so, even now in terms of disposal I'm not unduly concerned about using Procions. I still wonder whether, in this respect, they are safer than (most) natural dyes because of their requirement for metal mordants. And of course until I ask people who really know, who have the full facts and the answers, I will keep wondering instead of knowing...

Creation of the dyes is another matter again. ICI no longer makes Procions – it seems Dystar took over manufacturing the full range but they no longer make MX. It's been suggested Procion MX is made in India and I'm making enquiries in an attempt to discover who, where and under what conditions it's now made.

It may sound arrogant and could be completely wrong-headed of me but before at the time I was in touch with ICI, I had assumed that because ICI made the dyes certain environmental procedures and precautions would be met. That high environmental procedures and precautions would be met. I'm older and wiser now and so know not to assume anything with big business. Or with manufacturing in India.

My dithering over whether Procions or natural dyes are the most all-round eco-friendly, eco-sustainable, continues. Which has a lower carbon footprint? Woad, for instance, apparently shouldn't be grown in the same patch more than two or three years in a row as it depletes the soil. Maybe in a rotation system or companion planting soil exhaustion doesn't matter so much but if these or other cropping systems aren't practised, is woad production better or worse than synthetic dyes? I am reading the woad bible, Jamieson B Hurry's "The Woad Plant And Its Dye" (first published 1930, Oxford University Press) and finding some answers. I also know of (and will read up everything available from) Spindigo, a European collaborative research project developing new and sustainable methods of indigo production from woad (Isatis tinctoria), Chinese woad (Isatis indigotica), and polygonum (Polygonum tinctorium). Early in 2008 I intend to visit Woad-inc, Norfolk based growers and producers who also are involved in Spindigo.

The week before Christmas after months of indecision on 'when-to' I called Envision, a southwest based agency that helps businesses with environmental matters. An adviser and I will meet in a few weeks to see how they can help me advance my research and, hopefully, begin to reach some conclusions. I also signed up for a Carbon Trust course (Practical Guide to Footprinting) in February. I feel not only that carbon costing is on its way in to becoming mainstream practice (see here) but along with living systems thinking (nature is role model) it's a major tool for grasping the sustainability implications of every action and production.


Helen said...

Mordants and the issue of metal mordants
The most common mordant and most useful one is Potassium Aluminium Sulphate, which is a naturally occurring chemical and can be, I understand used in gardening. Some plants accumulate it and some of the woodash mordants you may seem mentioned are from plants that accumulate alum.

Traditionally alum was used at 25% of dried weight of fibres but most modern dyers now follow Gill Dalby (who wrote a book called Fast and Fugitive) who established that you could succesfully mordant wool fibres at 8% for alum with 7% cream of tartar as an assistant to enable the fibres to take up the mordant. Cotton can be mordanted with aluminium actetate at 5% but I don't know of the effect fo disposing of this through the water system Earthues who pioneered this method of mordanting cotton won an award from the UN for their responsible attitude towards dyeing and mordanting.
Most natural dyers are happy with using alum at this concentration although there are always a few who want no mordants to be used and also a few likewise who feel that that it is perfectly okay to use other chemicals such as bichromium dioxide which is a poison & causes irritation in some, and I understand is illegal to dispose of down the sewerage system in the UK and chemicals such as Stannous Chloride. You will find that if you pose the question on Natural Dyes Online you will cause a heated debate with deeply entrenched positions so you are probably better of doing what I do which is read the original research! And make up your own mind. However while I accept that natural dyers of old were known for polluting rivers in times past using dyes from renewable resources and mordants responsibly has to be better than using syntheticallly created dyes (but that is my own entrenched position ) and in any case I prefer the colours!

I am very interested into your efforts to reduce your carbon footprint adn I had not really thought very hard about the issue of woad depleting the soil and that is one I would be most interested in following

Robin Paris said...

Hi Helen

Thanks for the info on alum. I am interested to hear that some plants take it up - can you let me know more? I haven't heard of it used in gardening but that means nothing.

At the mo I am hesitating on using mordants because they are inorganic compounds. A reedbed system could be destroyed by them - hypothetical as I don't and probably won't use one. But with peak oil approaching and likelihood of less power around, the water industry will either get too expensive for the likes of most in Cornwall to afford making us look for safe alternative solutions or living so rurally and far from London we will become even lower priority. Not to be a gloom monger more to look out for options and alternatives.

Woad has apprently been given the OK by the Soil Association so presumably if it's grown in rotation then it's OK. Basically needs a season of grasses and clover etc every so often. If you are putting down nitrogen fertiliser (to improve indigo yield) then it is VERY bad for global warming, never mind for your (Welsh) soil.

Do you know who makes Procion MX?