Respiratory and general health impairments of ragpickers in India: a study in Delhi

Abstract

Objective: This study attempted to assess the respiratory and general health of ragpickers who rummage through the garbage dumps and landfill sites in India to collect and sell recyclable materials for a living. Methods: 98 ragpickers and 60 controls from Delhi, matched for age, sex, and socioeconomic conditions, were examined. Health data were obtained from questionnaire survey, clinical examination, and laboratory investigations. Lung function was evaluated by spirometry. Results: After controlling for smoking as a confounder, respiratory symptoms and lung function decrement were recorded in 94% and 52% of the ragpickers, respectively, compared with 56% and 34% of controls. The ragpickers showed a higher prevalence of low hemoglobin, high circulating eosinophil and monocyte counts, unhealthy gums, frequent diarrhea, and dermatitis, when compared with controls. Their sputum showed an abundance of alveolar macrophages, siderophages and inflammatory cells, and a very high frequency of squamous metaplasia and dysplasia of bronchial epithelial cells, suggesting inflammation and cellular changes in the airways. Conclusion: The ragpickers suffer from a multitude of health problems which seem related to their occupation.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank the National Productivity Council, New Delhi, for financial assistance.

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Correspondence to Manas Ranjan Ray.

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Ray, M.R., Mukherjee, G., Roychowdhury, S. et al. Respiratory and general health impairments of ragpickers in India: a study in Delhi. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 77, 595–598 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00420-004-0564-8

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Keywords

  • Health
  • India
  • Ragpickers
  • Solid waste