Nearly 2213 hectares of land occupying salt pans in urban Mumbai are suffering from massive problem of sustainability as the coastal eco-system is fast heading towards degradation due to insanitation, open defecation, germ-filled drains and exposure to high-temperature.
The hydrological cycle of the Arabian Sea whose water is evaporated to create salt, further causes a plethora of health hazards to nearly 27,000 persons who work in the salt pans in absence of sanitation with no provision of fresh potable waters. The water vapour, that rises from the ocean surface carries landward a large number of bacteria and micro-biological live organism by the winds.
Run by private parties, salt pans located in Dahisar, Malvani, Pahadi, Mulund, Nahur, Bhandup, KanjurMarg, Wadala, Anik, Turbhe, Mandale, Chembur, Ghatkopar Mira-Bhayander and Virar do not have any basic sanitation or health facilities resulting in open defecation near the pans of salt or taps for water. They also have to drink saline water most of the time. As most of the salt makers live in the make-shift huts in the salt pans with their families, the problem of sanitation problem is extremely acute there.
Salt is prepared in a span of eight to nine months. During the monsoons, the salt makers return to their villages. The migratory populace works in the pans of salt with their wives and children. On an average, 20 to 25 families work together in a single salt pan. Due to this overpopulation in a salt pan, the entire area becomes virtual open air defecation place in the absence of portable latrines.
Causing Diseases and deficiencies
The National Institute of Occupational Hazards’ study shows that a large number of the salt pan workers suffer from eye problems, eye burning and eventual blindness. The Pterygia growth in the cornea of eyes, is their common problem owing to the result of their constant exposure to bright, white, reflected light and dust.Ironical it may sound, but the salt pan workers who work foriodizing salt, themselves consume raw-salt or non-iodised salt developing poor thyroid function that can lead to congenital hypothyroidism with mental retardation. A research paper ‘Working and Living Conditions of Salt Workers in India’ published by the Union Ministry of Labour shows that the salt workers lack of basic amenities like drinking water, shelter, education and facilities like gumboots, sunglasses, tools and healthcare. The lower legs and feet of salt pan workers develop lesions like ulcers and wart.
Skin lesions, tuberculosis, gastro-intestinal diseases, gangrene, malaria, falling of hair, high-blood pressure and heart diseases are the other common diseases among the salt pan workers. Malnutrition, anaemia, Vitamin B, A and D deficiencies are common for these salt pan workers of Mumbai.
As water of sea contains high-degree of molten salt, the workers unknowingly inhale “salt vapours” causing them in intake salt in non-solid form. High intake of salt makes people prone to high blood pressure, stroke, heart ailments and cardiac arrest. When one cubic of sea water evaporates, it results in creation of nearly two pounds of salt. Due to constant exposure to salt crystals, they develop chronic dermatitis (skin ulcers) on their hands and legs. About 20% of salt pan workers are found to be suffering from cardiac problems. Constant exposure to natural chemicals present in the sea water creates very serious health hazards for them. Besides chloride, sodium and magnesium, the sea water contains a minimum of 72 different types of natural chemicals and a large number of them are hazardous for human health.