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An analysis of media reports on the nexus between waste, health and human rights in Chennai.

Edition: April-June 2019

Abstract: This briefing note sheds light on the extent of media coverage on the nexus between waste, health and human rights in Chennai. 

Table of Contents:  

  1. Introduction

  2. Methodology

  3. Findings: 

  1. Establishment of a connection between environmental quality and waste

  2. Waste and health

  3. Duty of the Corporation

  4. Court guidelines

  1. Discussion

  2. Conclusion

  3. Bibliography 



The Human Rights Impact Assessment project (HRIA) at the Kodungaiyur dumpyard seeks to document the negative impacts of the dumpyard on human rights, especially the right to health and environment. An integral component of the process involved collecting data from health service providers as well as the people resident and working in the dumpyard area on the kind of health problems suffered most frequently. This was done to establish a connection between health of the people and  plastic and waste in general at the dumpyard. In order to build on this study, an analysis of media reports on the nexus between waste, health and human rights in Chennai was attempted for this report. The media helps in disseminating information to the public; and a well-informed community is the foundation for any Human Rights Impact Assessment process. Therefore, this report helps establish existing knowledge base in the area of waste and health and provides an idea as to the kind of information available to the  Chennai public in this realm. 



The report aims at analysing media coverage of the nexus between waste and health and related human rights issues in Chennai. The methodology employed involved an analysis of online English print media articles available till the date of 5th May, 2019. This includes 24  articles published in English. 

  1. Down to Earth - 2

  2. Deccan Chronicle- 1

  3. Times of India - 8

  4. Hindu- 8 

  5. CitizenMatters- 2

  6. NewsMinute - 3  

These articles were found using Google News as a search index engine, using the following search terms:

  1. Chennai waste 

  2. Chennai dump yards

  3. Chennai health impacts due to waste

  4. Chennai landfills

  5. Chennai waste environmental problems

  6. Chennai waste health problems

  7. Chennai waste human rights violations

In the second step, the online Chennai editions of these English media outlets were further scanned for articles. This list is not limited by a time period as such because the articles found on this topic were fewer in number. The list in that sense tries to be as exhaustive as possible in its coverage of the reporting done on this issue by the Chennai edition of the English media outlets. These articles have been analysed using two key parameters discussed below: 


  1. Extent of coverage of the environmental and health impact of waste 

  2. Establishment of the human rights impact of waste 



Establishment of a connection between environmental quality and waste: 

CitizenMatters reports on how the Kodungaiyur area was in fact a lush green wetland which was slowly transformed into a dumpyard beginning with the dumping of garbage and discharge of sewage at the fodder farm located therein. 

Soil: Media Reports indicate that Chennai is the most contaminated in terms of Poly-Chlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) concentration in soil, with an informal e-waste shredding site in Chennai recording maximum concentration1

Air : The newspapers have published details of scientific reports on the negative air quality in Kodungaiyur and Perungudi. Reports indicate that the presence of certain known carcinogens exceeds the permissible limits set by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a result of the burning of unsegregated waste including plastics and medical waste2. Residents of Ezhil Nagar, RR Nagar, Panakara Nagar, Krishnamurthy Nagar and KKD Nagar are reported to be worst affected by the bad air quality in the region3.

Water: The media has reported on how the lakes, rivers and other smaller freshwater bodies are being used as a dumpsite for garbage and sewage resulting in the deterioration of drinking water quality and reduced storage capacity of these water bodies which could lead to floods. The media attributes the same to increasing urbanisation, as a result of which empty plots and parched lakes are used as makeshift dumping sites. A Deccan Chronicle article notes that the issue of lorries stealthily dumping garbage at night has been brought to the attention of the police by the Resident Welfare Associations4. Metrowater engineers have detected the presence of new contaminants including drug residues in water bodies which supply drinking water to the city even after treatment. This is attributed to the dumping of sewage, solid waste, construction debris and plastic waste in these water bodies. If these contaminants continue to accumulate, they could have a severe negative impact on health as per the officials who conducted the study5

A Times of India article quotes residents stating that the groundwater near the Kodungaiyur dumpyard has been  severely contaminated6. The landfills also result in leachate generation which pollutes surface and groundwater7. Groundwater contamination as a result of leachates has been confirmed in the areas of Ezhil Nagar, Rajarathinam Nagar, Krishnamurthy Nagar and MKB Nagar8. Borewells have also been shut down in these areas as the water is murky with a distinct odour. 


Waste and health: 

Media has been reporting on how the deterioration of air and groundwater quality is leading to increasing cases of upper respiratory tract diseases and cancer. People living near the Kodungaiyur and Perungudi dump yards complain of increasing rates of cancer and respiratory disorders as a result of the burning of garbage9. Apart from the above, the constant burning of eyes and stench from the rotting garbage in landfills makes day to day life unbearable for the local communities. A Times of India article notes that a survey conducted by it in Tondiarpet reveals that 35 percent of the respondents were not happy with the cleanliness and sanitation there10.

Media articles also state that fires in the dump yards resulting from the release of landfill gas, mainly methane lead to toxic fumes, smoke and irritation for residents and motorists in the area11. Residents have even alleged that Chennai Corporation officials set fire to the garbage in order to reduce the growing landfill. It has also been recognised that even though fires have been occurring in the past as well, they have become dangerous only in the past few years due to the increased plastic load. Every year, at least two fire accidents occur in the Kodungaiyur dump yard, during which locals have to move to other parts of the city to avoid the terrible pollution. Residents feel that their life expectancy has decreased multifold, for having continuously breathed in these toxins12. Apart from sudden fires at the dump yards, CitizenMatters reports that Madambakkam Town Panchayat mandates burning of non-biodegradable waste by the conservancy workers after they have segregated the collected waste13. Besides respiratory problems, the media articles cite reports which confirm the presence of chemicals which affect the central nervous system, eyes, skin, liver, kidneys and reproductive system, cardiovascular system and peripheral nervous system14. 

A Hindu article talks about the potential health impacts from leachates arising from unlined landfills such as Kodungaiyur and Perungudi15. It elaborates on the organs impacted and health disorders caused by acute and long term exposure to leachates respectively. 

Further biomedical waste dumped in landfills, especially test tubes, syringes, glass bottles, blood and IV bags result in the waste workers being affected by gastritis, gastro-enteritis and other stomach infections. 

Although not affecting human health directly, an article talks about a study in Tamil Nadu which revealed that the consumption of plastic by cows leads to the presence of dioxins in the milk. This would possibly affect the health of those humans who consume such milk16


Responsibility of the Corporation : 

A Down to Earth article notes that the Chennai Corporation continues to dump waste in spite of the fact that the State Pollution Control Board and the Department of Environment banned dumping of wastes at the dump yards following public protest17. Regarding the issue of  pollution of water bodies by garbage, when the media contacted the Greater Chennai Corporation18 (GCC), an official maintained that they were monitoring the issue and that stern action would be taken against those creating  unauthorized dump yards in the city. Moreover they were removing garbage and debris dumped in impermissible areas. 


Court Guidelines: 

A Times of India article notes that the Madras High Court rapped the GCC for constant delays and asked the Commissioner to live next to the dumpyard to experience the negative health impacts19. Another article notes that the High Court brought the state government and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to task for failing to take into account the health hazards caused by hospitals in the state which did not adhere to the rules and regulations in treating biomedical waste20.   



In general, most of the media articles covering health and waste-related problems from the perspective of waste were based on interviews from respondents and scientific reports on environmental quality in the area of North Chennai and Kodungaiyur in particular. Few articles did an independent analysis of the health problems arising from waste.  Based on the two parameters - extent of coverage of the environmental and health impacts of waste and the establishment of the human rights impacts of waste, the analysis stands as follows with regard to each of the respective parameters. 

  1. Extent of coverage of the environmental and health impacts of waste: One section of the articles covers the impact of the waste in Chennai and the two dump yards at Kodungaiyur and Perungudi on the environment in terms of air, water and soil quality. For assessing negative impact on air and soil quality, reliance is placed on scientific reports which record the existence of certain harmful chemicals including carcinogens beyond permissible limits. These articles infer  negative impacts on health, but no definitive relations are drawn by stating real life examples or instances. Deterioration of water quality, on the other hand, has been long held by the media, as contributing to ill health. 

While these articles have been talking about the impact of waste on health through the lens of negative environmental quality, another section of the articles have approached the issue directly. Articles talking about the impact on health directly can be divided into three categories : 

  • Articles discussing negative health impacts from both intentional and accidental fires: Apart from the disruption in the day to day life of the residents, it has been reported to lead to more severe health issues such as respiratory problems, cancer, skin problems etc and even reduced life expectancy as a whole. 

  • Articles talking about the negative impact on health from  water contamination: Surface water contamination occurs due to physical dumping of garbage in freshwater bodies, resulting in the deterioration of drinking water quality. Groundwater contamination occurs due to leachates; when water flows through improperly disposed waste in the landfill, it percolates into the ground and contaminates the groundwater with toxic substances drawn from the waste it passes through. Media analysis has been extensive in covering the different kinds of health disorders caused by specific chemicals in leachates. 

  • A third angle explores the impact on human health resulting from the improper disposal of medical waste in the landfills. These articles mostly explore the impact that blood samples, broken glass vials, used syringes and other medical waste have on the health of the waste workers who deal with this waste directly most often without proper equipment. 

       2.  Establishment of the human rights impacts of waste: No connection has been made in any of the articles on the violation of human rights as a result of the                          negative  impact of waste on health and the environment. 



The objective of this report was to understand the information disseminated by the media on the impact of waste on health and human rights in Chennai.Our analysis of the available media articles indicates  that the media has sufficiently documented health impact arising out of improper waste disposal and landfills both directly in the form of recording actual health disorders suffered by the residents and indirectly by referencing reports that attest to bad environmental quality. However, there are no articles that link between negative impact on environment and health and the violation of related human rights such as the right to life, health, environment, water etc. 

Therefore, the understanding arrived at is that the HRIA project at Kodungaiyur through the symptom’s diary and health service providers survey should clearly make the connection between negative environmental and health impacts and violation of human rights of those communities residing close to the landfills and those who are dependent on this waste for livelihood purposes. Current  media reports are lacking in this, leaving a huge gap in the literature. Bridging this literature gap will provide public policy advocates with the knowledge to remedy the situation and use this information as leverage in decision-making processes.



Down to Earth:

Deccan Chronicle:


News Minute:

Citizen Matters:




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