Bottled poison

Most bottled water brands are contaminated in Pakistan

By Muddassir Rizvi
Published: Thursday 15 March 2001

-- most brands of bottled water brands in Pakistan are either contaminated or unfit for human consumption, says the findings of government-run Pakistan Council for Research in Water Resources (pcrwr).

The analysis of 17 water quality parameters reveal that all brands show drastic variations between labelled and analytical values. "Out of 26 brands analysed, 10 brands were found to be unsafe for drinking," said the report. The council based its findings after testing 41 water samples of 26 brands collected randomly from stores in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

"The result was based on chemical, bacteriological and microbiological quality parameters using standard analytical procedures. Levels of potassium was 27 parts per million (ppm), when the prescribed limit is two ppm," read the report.

The report has prompted consumer groups to take the government to task for not revealing the names of the brands. "The government should release names of the companies marketing hazardous brands so that people could make informed choices," said a press release of the Islamabad-based Network for Consumer Protection. But consumer groups do not expect much from the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency (pak-epa), which had earlier concealed detailed findings of a report on lead content in wall paints. The government is, however, refusing to take action against these companies, apparently to create 'a business-friendly environment' and attract foreign investors in a cash-strapped economy. "We conduct research and it is up to the government ministries and departments concerned to act on them," said an official of pcrwr . But officials in the health and environment ministries say an action against the companies is impossible, as Pakistan has yet to frame rules for filtration, processing, packing and standardisation of bottled water.

The environment ministry says that it needs more proof to take action. "We will take action only after we conduct quality tests on these brands at our laboratories," said Asif Shuja Khan, director general, pak-epa.

"The pcrwr has sent a very clear message to consumers. It would be better if pcrwr releases the names of these companies and protect public health," demands says Zafar Mirza, executive coordinator of the Network. "The findings of the report show how consumers are exploited by shrewd and irresponsible companies in the name of hygiene and quality standards," he adds.

In a country where more than 50 per cent people lack access to safe drinking water, companies selling bottled water have made huge profits in the past few years. "The rise in bottle water consumption is a direct result of government's failure to provide safe drinking water. The companies are exploiting the situation to make money," commented Najeem Haider Zaidi, a development journalist based in Islamabad. "The government should give top priority to provide clean drinking water, otherwise these companies will flood our markets with substandard products," adds Zaidi.

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