Outdoor occupational groups at risk of diseases caused by air pollution: Study
A large percentage of the participants reported that they were suffering from sore throats, frequent headaches, itching eyes, etc.
A large percentage of Delhi residents in certain outdoor occupational groups, such as municipal sweepers, security guards, and waste pickers, have severely been impacted by air pollution, and a lack of proper protective gear and other amenities is leading to serious health implications, a study released on Friday has revealed.
The study, titled Unfair Air Quality: The impact of air pollution on three occupations, which was led by NGO Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, was conducted on 400 people from 15 sites across Delhi. It included 100 individuals from each of the three high-risk occupations and 100 more individuals from a control group (a group not exposed to the high levels of air pollution that the other three groups were exposed to).
It said, “Among the studied outdoor occupational groups, 86% safai karamcharis (municipal sweepers), 86% security guards, and 75% waste pickers have poor lung function compared to 45% of the control group.”
A large percentage of the participants reported that they were suffering from sore throats, frequent headaches, itching eyes, and other similar symptoms of diseases linked to air pollution since they started their jobs. The study also revealed that women involved in these outdoor occupations are at a greater risk of developing diseases triggered by air pollution.
A majority of these outdoor workers were also unaware of personal protective equipment (PPE), the study revealed. Moreover, burning of wood and coal during winter was seen to be prevalent across these groups, especially among waste pickers, leading to severe pulmonary problems.
The study put forth a set of first steps — from mandatory PPE kits, N95 masks, facilities for washing and freshening up, to annual health check-ups and social and financial support for pregnant and lactating women — that can be taken up to address the safety of these workers.
Bharati Chaturvedi, director of Chintan, said, “The discussion on health impacts of air pollution on workers is still largely absent… Some people breathe worse air than others, given the nature of their work.”
Leading pulmonologist and former AIIMS director Randeep Guleria, who was also involved in the study, said, “Air pollution is closely linked to health. This must become widespread knowledge with access to assessment and treatment for groups most impacted.”
Jay Prakash Choudhury of Safai Sena, an organisation of informal waste pickers, said, “People need to be more aware about dry and wet waste. Our waste pickers have to collect dry and wet waste together, and due to lack of funds for landfills and recycling, they often burn it, which inevitably leads to more pollution as well as severe lung issues... I wish the government would be more prompt about providing PPE to all outdoor workers, especially waste pickers.”