Bhalswa landfill: a scar on residents’ lives

Most patients, usually aged 30-35 years, have allergies in their hands, feet, mouth, scalp, and forehead.

Most patients, usually aged 30-35 years, have allergies in their hands, feet, mouth, scalp, and forehead. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

“I struggle to sleep at night,” said Sushila, 44, who feels restless because of her itchy and scaly skin. Showing her bruised pale yellow hands with scars, she said, “I am paying the price for living right opposite to Bhalswa landfill site.” 

Ms. Sushila, who is on medication for skin allergy, says her sleeping disorder has weakened her immune system too. Her scalp is dry and flaky, there are pus-filled blisters around her mouth and her forehead has dark flaky patches. She has been advised by doctors not to touch the wounds on her body but she invariably ends up scratching them, which delays the healing process.

Surrounded by contaminated water and air, the residents of north-west Delhi’s Bhalswa village in Jahangirpuri continue to battle various physical and mental health issues. Most of the men in the area work in factories around Bhalswa, earning ₹7,000-8000 a month, while the women are involved in domestic work. If job uncertainty and meagre income keep worrying them during the day, the irritation from skin rashes does not allow them peaceful sleep during the night. 

The height of the garbage mounds at the Bhalswa dumping ground, which has been in existence since 1994, has reached 54 metres. Since the site is filled with decomposing waste, the residents in nearby areas have no other choice but to breathe the polluted air filled with toxic gases. Garbage dumped on the roads, open drains and poor housing and sanitation in the area act as breeding hotspots for mosquitoes and flies.

Using contaminated water is one of the reasons for the spread of skin infections in the area. Diwan Singh, an environmentalist and water conservationist, said treated water supply is limited due to which people are for forced to use groundwater. “The groundwater is contaminated because of the landfill and supplementary drain,” he said, adding that some people in the area use purified water to drink, but to bathe, they use the groundwater, which is pale yellow in colour.

Cases of skin allergies

The residents keep looking for treatments to snatch a few hours of sleep. Dr. C.S. Bhogal at Babu Jagjivan Ram Memorial Hospital said a large number of skin allergy cases are reported from the vicinity of the Bhalswa landfill due to pollution. “We receive 8-10 cases of skin allergies in our OPD daily from the region, “ he said, adding that “poor living standards add to the health problems of the residents“. 

According to Dr. Bhogal, the quality of water supplied to the residents may not harm their skin overnight but over a period of time, the skin starts peeling out from the infected area; this later ends up in allergies. “The patients often scratch these wounds out of irritation, which then start bleeding, robbing them off their sleep,” he added. 

Even though patients are provided with oral and topical treatments, the top layer of their skin remains damaged for years. One of the residents, Rashida Khatoon, 19, has skin allergy on her feet and can wear only a certain kind of footwear. “I can’t wear covered shoes as they make my feet itch and I am not able to walk. I wear open sandals as they are airy but they look bad because of my scaly feet,” said Ms. Khatoon, who is undergoing treatment at a local clinic for her skin ailment. 

“The doctor said I have a blood infection,” said the 19-year-old who sleeps for five hours at night with much difficulty.  “I try to sleep but mosquitoes keep biting my feet because of the open wounds,” she said. 

Not only grown-ups, but children in the area also suffer from skin ailments. Ms. Khatoon’s neighbour, five-year-old Akram, has a similar skin allergy on his scalp. ”Due to the allergy, Akram has started losing a considerable amount of hair. Even his fingertips and nails on his hands have started blackening,” said Ms. Khatoon.

Sleepless nights

 Sukhbiri Singh, 55, keeps washing her hands and face because of her itchy skin. Showing her stiff and pale yellow hands, she said, “The pollutants from the dirty water have numbed my hands in the last four years.” 

“Our open wounds keep attracting mosquitoes and flies throughout the night, forcing us to stay up to keep a vigil on our children and ourselves. I barely manage to sleep for four hours,” said Ms. Singh, who feels lethargic during the day due to sleep deprivation.  

Dr. Pavitra Arora, who runs a small clinic and has been treating the local residents for more than a decade now told The Hindu that people aged 30-35 years report most cases of skin allergies. 

“I usually prescribe a Cetirizine tablet a day depending on the severity of the allergy, “ he said. Dr. Arora, who treats three such cases daily on an average, said most patients have allergies in their hands, feet, mouth, scalp and forehead.

“I have consulted many doctors but I do not find any improvement; I do not feel much sensation in my hands,” said Bala Manoj, 50, showing her fingertips from where the skin was peeling off.

Ms. Manoj has breathing problems and her eyes keep twitching because of her scaly eyelids. “It has been 15 years since I have been suffering from skin infections. I don’t know when my skin will become normal again,” she said, adding that her poor economic situation makes her worry about the amount of money she has to spend on the anti-allergy tablets and insect repellents. Ms. Manoj said she spends over ₹500 on mosquito coils every month, while a fly repellent costing ₹250 lasts a week and a liquid vaporiser costs her ₹350 a month.

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Printable version | Jul 21, 2022 4:44:03 am |