Mumbai: Hospital uniforms being washed in sewer water!

This shallow reservoir behind the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, filled with filthy water from BMC sewage lines, is where around 4,000 clothes are washed every day, including linen from hospitals and restaurants

The next time you lift up a seemingly clean napkin to wipe your lips at a restaurant or cover an ailing loved one with a sheet at a hospital, pause to think. For, the linen could have been washed in sewer water. This horrifying fact, with its worrisome health implications, was discovered by mid-day when we visited a makeshift shallow reservoir behind the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Since the water remains stagnant and is made worse with the repeated use of detergent and washing of possibly contaminated hospital linen, the tank could, literally, be a reservoir of disease. A dhobi displays the clothes from a hospital washed in the reservoir. Pics/Nimesh Dave
Since the water remains stagnant and is made worse with the repeated use of detergent and washing of possibly contaminated hospital linen, the tank could, literally, be a reservoir of disease. A dhobi displays the clothes from a hospital washed in the reservoir. Pics/Nimesh Dave

Barely 20 feet long and filled with murky, filthy, stagnant water from BMC sewage lines, the reservoir serves as an open-air laundry and over 4,000 clothes are washed there every day, including linen from hospitals and restaurants not only in and around Borivli, Kandivli and Dahisar, but also from places as far as Colaba.

Since the water remains stagnant and is made worse with the repeated use of detergent and washing of possibly contaminated hospital linen, the tank could, literally, be a reservoir of disease.

‘Cleaning’ process
mid-day observed that while the bigger bed sheets are washed in an automatic tumbler at a higher level, the used water flows, through a BMC sewage pipe, back into the already contaminated reservoir.

Workers said the entire Dhobi Ghat, as the spot is referred to by the locals, is virtually ruled by about 25 overlords, who approach high-end restaurants and hospitals with a proposal to clean their linen
Workers said the entire Dhobi Ghat, as the spot is referred to by the locals, is virtually ruled by about 25 overlords, who approach high-end restaurants and hospitals with a proposal to clean their linen

Here, the smaller clothes and uniforms were being washed either by hand or by making teenage boys, clad only in their underwear, jump on them barefoot. ‘Fresh’ sewer water from the pipes also drains into the tank regularly.

Sewer pipes above the reservoir
Sewer pipes above the reservoir

Fifty-five-year-old Prakash (name changed to protect identity), who has been washing clothes on the reservoir since he was 15, said that the entire Dhobi Ghat, as the spot is referred to by the locals, is virtually ruled by about 25 overlords, who approach high-end restaurants and hospitals with a proposal to clean their linen.

“They, in turn employ approximately 150 workers to wash the linen. Each washer gets R350-500, a couple of beedi packs and a nip of country liquor every day.” he said. Holding up a bagful of hospital linen, another worker alleged that he was aware of at least three hospitals and five restaurants between Kandivli and Dahisar, whose linen was washed by his team regularly.

“Each team has its fixed set of clients. Some clothes are sent here from as far as south Mumbai for washing” he said. While mid-day could not make out the exact hospitals the linen came from as they only had some ink markings, the logos of the restaurants were clearly visible on waiters’ uniforms and aprons worn by chefs, which had come for cleaning.

Official speak
When mid-day spoke to Kishore Gandhi, assistant municipal commissioner (R-Central ward), he confirmed that the Dhobi Ghat, which was near the mouth of the Dahisar River, got running water only during the monsoons and the water was contaminated with discharge from BMC sewage lines. “We are aware of the problem and it will only be solved once the Dahisar River is revived. The plan has already got the nod from the government and will be implemented soon,” he said.

Expert speak
Dr Anjana Pant, an environmentalist, who has been working in the field of remediation of heavy metals in aquatic bodies for over 20 years and is associated with the Dahisar River project, said that stagnant water, when exposed to high levels of laundry detergent and pathogens from hospital linen, becomes even more toxic.

“The bacteria in the water further multiply as the climate gets warmer, increasing the chances of acute infections even in a healthy person, and it could be much worse for a patient in a hospital”. Dr Sandeep Sattur, a hair restorative surgeon, said, “Sewage water is water contaminated with excrement, industrial effluent and debris.

If clothes come into contact with this water, normal laundering with detergent and water is not enough to kill the bacteria that may be present. The micro-organisms can remain alive in fabrics for a long time. This can cause a host of health problems.”

Dahisar River project
The Dahisar River is formed due to spillage of water from the Tulsi Lake, inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park, and ends in Gorai creek, over 12 km away. The river, once a location for the shooting of Bollywood films, is now a stinking gutter in which construction debris is dumped and industrial effluents are let out.

In February, mid-day had reported how River Rehabilitation Regiment (RRR), a Dahisar-based group, has taken the help of Dr Anjana Pant to undo the damage through cleaning the river of debris, directing the sewage/industrial effluent into the BMC sewage channels by building separate channels, building check dams for water retention and beautifying the riverfront. The state government, along with the BMC and citizen groups, is also working on a project to revive the river.

Restaurant speak


Mohan Shetty, manager of Sai Veg World, Goregaon, whose staff uniforms were discovered being washed and dried at the Dhobi Ghat thanked mid-day for bringing the issue to his notice. “I will have the matter sorted out immediately. I will discuss the issue with my seniors and take appropriate action,” he said.


Manjunath Pujari, manager of Aditi Fast Food, Malad, was also shocked at the revelation and claimed that according to his dhobi, the uniforms of his restaurant were being washed in hygienic conditions in Jogeshwari. “This is startling news for me, and quick action will be initiated”.

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