The world population now tops six billion, placing a tremendous burden on the environment and natural resources. By converting hides – organic ‘waste products’ from the food industry – into valuable leather, leather manufacturers help to conserve these resources and thus protect the environment, provided, of course, that little new waste is produced during the manufacturing process and the end product is ecologically and toxicologically harmless. To ensure that this is the case, the Leather Business Unit at LANXESS Deutschland GmbH offers a comprehensive service package that sets new standards for leather industry suppliers worldwide.

The manufacture of processing chemicals for leather production is subject to the same strict specifications, in accordance with ISO 9001/2000 and ISO 14001 certification, at all of LANXESS’s sites. Each delivery comes complete with a comprehensive set of documents, such as European or US-standard safety data sheets, even if these are not required by law in the customer’s country.

Attention is always drawn to any potentially hazardous components in a product and to the respective statutory requirements. LANXESS no longer uses particularly critical substances anywhere in the world in the manufacture of products for the leather industry. Such substances, which are either banned by law in Europe or considered to be technically outdated because of their toxicological potential, include:

* arsenic

* azo dyestuffs, which may split off carcinogenic amines (according to Azo Dyestuff Directive 2002/61/EC)

* toxic heavy metals (cadmium, lead, mercury)

* persistent organic pollutants (‘POPs’)

* polychlorinated and polybrominated phenols

* potentially sensitising or carcinogenic dyestuffs and pigments (according to 2002/371/EC)

* short-chain chlorinated paraffins (C10 – C13)

* tributyl tin compound

‘If there is the slightest indication that the raw materials used by us might contain critical substances or that such substances might be formed during the manufacturing process, we conduct analyses’, stresses Dr Martin Kleban, Head of Product Development, Leather Wet End in the Leather Business Unit. ‘In this way we can ensure that our tanning materials, finishing agents and other auxiliaries for the leather industry are free of such substances.’

Despite these precautions, the possibility of the leather end product containing pollutants still cannot be ruled out entirely. Contamination may occur, for example, if the raw hides are obtained from uncontrolled sources or if the processing conditions during the complex manufacturing process are not up to standard. For this reason, it is absolutely imperative to check the finished leather article to ensure that the level of Responsible Care set by LANXESS is maintained.

Such checks are standard procedure today for quality-conscious manufacturers of leather and leathergoods. Many even have voluntary internal restrictions that go beyond what is required by law. LANXESS Leather has a team of experts, coordinated from Leverkusen, in each of its regional centres to provide active support for these manufacturers.

Products purchased from LANXESS can, at the customer’s request, be tested to see if they conform to such specifications. If they do, a certificate is issued; if they don’t, alternative products are recommended. ‘By utilising the know-how of the Leather Business Unit and mobilising the resources that the Group is able to provide worldwide, LANXESS can provide its customers with a level of product quality and service that sets a benchmark’, boasts Kleban.

In the Industrial and Environmental Affairs Department at the Leverkusen site, a team of specialists constantly monitors scientific findings in the fields of ecology and toxicology and also observes political developments within the chemical sector with regard to statutory requirements and voluntary commitment. LANXESS then uses this information at its sites around the world when developing products and improved technologies.

Governments and professional associations have confirmed the success of this strategy by awarding LANXESS various environment prizes. ‘We are proud of the awards we have received for our achievements in the field of environmental protection and safety, for example the title of ‘environment-friendly company’, which was conferred on us in 2004 by SEPA, the environmental authorities of the People’s Republic of China’, says Dr Bernhard Wehling, Head of the Leather Business Unit.