Centre for Environmental Health


Environmental Health Research in TISS has been focusing on three main areas: WASH; Housing and Settlements; and Human exposure to chemicals and pesticides. The research in TISS emphasises on participatory approaches combined with the scientific method. Participatory research stress on the process of research carried out with the local people rather than on them. Local knowledge and perspectives are considered in research and planning. Insights from participatory approach is then combined with the scientific method to contribute to the existing knowledge base. Advocacy is embedded in multiple scales. Given below are broader themes of work in TISS and the current research projects.

1. Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH)

Proper water, sanitation, and hygiene is an inevitable part of a healthy life. India has been struggling with achieving WASH goals for decades. While there has been a decline in the water washed diseases, the waterborne diseases and water-related vector-borne diseases are on the rise across India. The reason for this is persisting open defecation in the country and unhygienic environment. Governments have been addressing WASH issues for decades but with a focus on rural sanitation. In urban areas, informality and increasing population are a more significant challenge to provide essential services. A different, fluid and complicated ecosystem concerning WASH is in place in the cities which has not been uncovered by the researchers yet. To address the issues of WASH in the cities understanding of the complexities due to population influx, informality, socio-cultural dynamics, and urbanism are essential. TISS has been leading research in this arena in different capacities. One of the research undertaken under the Centre for Environmental Health currently is to explore the sustainability of shared sanitation in the slums of Mumbai. This research becomes significant in the context of shared sanitation considered as unimproved under the JMP ladder and spatial dynamics, and informality leaves with no options other than shared sanitation facilities. A brief note of the research conducted is given below.

a) Sustainable Shared Sanitation in Mumbai (Dr. Prathibha Ganesan)

Shared sanitation facilities are an inevitable part of slum sanitation in Mumbai. There are various types of shared sanitation facilities like public toilets, community toilets (built and managed by local government, and designed and managed by the community), and group toilets. Some of the issues regarding shared sanitation in Mumbai include lack of access to toilets, congestion in the existing toilets due to the inadequate number of toilets, accidental deaths due to collapsed public toilets, lack of water access, cleanliness of the toilets, and social exclusion of certain groups. Over the years through different schemes and government and civil society agencies have built shared sanitation facilities in the slums of Mumbai. However, none of these shared sanitation facilities will be considered an improved facility as per the international standards as they are shared in nature. Precisely for this reason there is a neglect of sustainability aspects of shared sanitation facilities. In urban spaces where a transition to individual household latrines are nearly impossible due to lack of space, improvisation of shared sanitation facilities and its sustainability is crucial. Currently, not enough information is available on the sustainability aspects of shared sanitation facilities in the informal spaces. Therefore, the objective of this research is to explore the environmental, social, economic and technological sustainability of shared sanitation facilities in the slums of Mumbai. The research focuses on the intersections of sustainability and informality. Different types of shared sanitation facilities across different wards of BMC will be studied to gather the data on sustainability aspects.

b) Student's Research

In addition to the above-mentioned research project, students of the School of Habitat Studies are also involved in WASH research for their Master's Dissertation under the guidance of CEH core faculty. Some of the research topics include

Name of the student Topic
Anna Brittas Understanding the Changing Trajectory of Solid Waste Management in Kerala: A Case study of Thiruvananthapuram
Aditi Kaleshkar Slum Sanitation Programme, after a decade of its implementation
Mithun Louis  Institution Building for Collective Action: A Case Study of  Alappuzha Canal Rejuvenation
Rongsenben Communitisation Programme for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation: A Case Study of WATSAN in Dimapur, Nagaland
Rahul Raja Sanitation and Septage Disposal in Urban Informal Settlements: A Case study of Sangham Vihar unauthorized Colony
Divya Bharti Life of Paper in Small Town: Assessment of the recycling process and Value Chain
Pratik More Exploring Open Defecation in M-ward (East), Mumbai

2. Housing and Settlement

Healthy housing is a determinant of public health. In cities, most people live in slums with minimal resources and inadequate housing. Congested space, local housing materials, and unhygienic surroundings exacerbate the health issues of the poor in slums. Additionally, government initiative towards housing in the name of resettlement is also found to have health implications due to the architecture and other aspects. Change in the social and economic status of the people; loss of social ties, lack of access to work and health facilities are also some of the issues identified in resettlement sites. A Comprehensive study of the emerging health challenges from housing and settlement pattern in urban areas becomes essential. Currently, research is underway in the resettlement sites of Mumbai to explore the new health challenges due to social, psychological, environmental and architectural stresses. The study will be expanded to other cities in the second phase with collaborations from other research institutes.

a) Urban Resettlement Sites: An Emergent Health Challenge (Prof. Amita Bhide)

Mainstream narrative favoring the eviction of poor neighborhoods and rehabilitating them is that they are highly unsanitary in condition. However, there is little or no study discussing the environmental conditions of resettlement colonies and resulting health challenges. Research is critical to address the future challenges for livability in cities. Given that resettlement of urban poor is now a common phenomenon, this is a proposal for developing a) comprehensive literature review around housing and health, with an Indian focus b,) developing a research proposal for a multi-locational study of the environmental conditions in resettlement colonies and c) conducting a national workshop around the theme.

3. Human exposure to Pesticides and other Chemical Contaminants

Human exposure to chemicals occurs through three exposure pathways: Inhalation, ingestion and skin contact. People may be exposed to chemicals through food, water, air, and soil. Excess exposure to chemical affects different organ systems in the human body leading to ill health. Even though pesticides are used in agriculture to prevent the pest attacks and loss of productivity, these chemicals raise serious concern regarding health resulting from occupational exposure and residues in food and drinking water. Pesticides may harm humans via poisoning (affect organ systems) or injuries (caused by pesticides that are external irritants). Several pesticides are known to be human carcinogens. Among the ‘dirty dozen' list of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) released under the Stockholm Convention nine are pesticides. Toxic effects by pesticide exposure can range from mild symptoms, such as eye and skin irritation, giddiness, vomiting to severe illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, respiratory, neurodegenerative, reproductive and developmental disorders. Some pesticides including the organophosphates, cause severe symptoms, like convulsions, and coma. Since the Indian economy is dependent mainly on Agriculture and a significant share of the workforce is dependent on farming, understanding the occupational health risks due to pesticide pollution is crucial. The current focus of research is on pesticide assessment and mitigation.

a) Pesticide Risk Assessment and Mitigation through Community Participation and Capacity Building (Dr. Chandrashekhar Joglekar)

Several cases of pesticide poisoning have been reported from India. The enactment of Insecticide Act, 1968 was in response to many unfortunate deaths due to consumption of pesticide-tainted food grain in the late 1950s and early 1960s in the States of Kerala and Tamil Nadu (Ministry of Agriculture, 2018). The case of chronic toxicity due to endosulfan exposure in Kasargod, Kerala , acute poisoning of more than twenty school kids in Bihar due to consumption of midday meals, death of more than 50 farmers and farm laborers in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra in 2017, and medical emergency due to acute high level exposure to monocrotophos are some of the reported disasters. These disasters remind us of the gravity of environmental health risks associated with pesticides. However, as the report of the Standing Committee on Agriculture (Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, 2016) notes, the government has not conducted any study to assess the impact of indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides in the country. Thus, despite various rules, regulations and schemes, the unsafe, excessive and indiscriminate use of pesticides continue to be a severe occupational, environmental and food safety concern in India. Therefore, direct engagement with farmers with a focus on local risk assessment, risk perception, and risk management is necessary to address the environmental health risks associated with pesticides.

The primary objective of the research project is to assess pesticide risk and to build capacity of the agrarian community (farmers and farm laborers) to mitigate the risk by providing knowledge support for safe application of pesticides and through extension services in the form of non-insecticidal pest management (NIPM) practices in a participatory action research model. With this objective, the research aims to first characterize pesticide risk assessment and risk perception through systematic mapping of knowledge and practice of application of pesticides by farmers in the study area. This will be followed by an assessment of exposure to pesticides through bio-marker studies. Poor risk perception often manifests in poor risk management. Hence, improving risk perception is vital to managing risk. Finally, efforts will be made to improve risk perception of farmers through interventions such as demonstration plots to promote the safe use of pesticides and non-insecticidal pest management practices.

The project is implemented in Maharashtra state which is the largest consumer of pesticides with 11280 MT projected pesticide demand in 2015-16. Two villages each from two different agro-climatic zones namely the Central Vidarbha zone (Dhanori and Akoli from Umerkhed Block, Yavatmal District) and Western Ghat zone (Ozar, Niphad Block and Janori, Dindori Block, Nasik district) are selected for the research with an objective is to capture the regional differences in pesticide exposure and socio-economic complexities in environmental health risk mitigation.Through this project, the team is trying to map the knowledge and practice of application of pesticides by farmers, study the food safety aspects of the primary agricultural commodities produced by target farming communities, and assess the exposure of pesticides and the potential health impacts. The study will be carried out in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra.

4. Student's Research Funded by CEH

Name of the Student Research Guide School
Hardik Parmar Roasting Workers: A Study on Heat Vulnerability of Indoor Small Scale Industry Workers and adaptive Strategies in Ahmedabad Prof. Nilesh Gowde School of Health System Studies
Ipsit Mohanty Mountain Top Removal Coal Mining and Community Wellbeing- Study of Mining Villages in Odisha Prof. Jaqelin Joseph School of Disaster Management
Saurabh Suman Impact of Organic Food Mission on Food Security Dr. Chadrashekhar Joglekar School of Habitat Studies