ISLAMABAD: A government laboratory has declared that eight brands of mineral and bottled water – currently available on the open market – are “completely unsafe” for human consumption due to “chemical and microbiological contaminations”.

“[A] comparison of analytical findings with the permissible limits set by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) has revealed that eight brands are unsafe due to chemical or microbiological contamination,” says the quarterly report of the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) for January-March 2015.

According to PCRWR – which is a part of the Ministry of Science and Techonology – bottled water brands that were found to be unsafe for consumption include the brands Al-Haider, Noble, Drop Ice, Al-Sana, Days Pure, Effort, Aqua Safe and Butt.

The PCRWR had collected samples of 71 commercially available bottled water brands from local markets in seven cities of the country, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Sialkot, Karachi, Tando Jam and Quetta.

The report says that three of the unsafe brands – Al-Sana, Aqua Safe and Days Pure – have comparatively high arsenic levels, ranging from 11-35 parts per billion (ppb) as opposed to the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority’s definition, should be less than 10 ppb.

Unsafe brands had high levels of sodium, potassium, arsenic and biological contaminants

Excessive arsenic in the water can cause various disorders of the skin, diabetes, kidney problems, hypertension, heart ailments, birth defects, black foot and multiple cancers.

Three other brands – Drop Ice, Effort and Butt – were found to be unsafe due to “microbiological contamination which may cause cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis and typhoid etc.”

Noble, Days Pure, Aqua Safe also contain unusually high quantities of sodium, which the levels of potassium found in the Al-Haider brand are also alarmingly high, according to the report.

The PCRWR has urged national quality control and surveillance authorities to take legal action against the companies that are supplying contaminated bottled water to the public and in doing so are toying with public health.

To monitor and improve the quality of bottled water, the federal government has assigned the PCRWR, through the Ministry of Science and Technology, to monitor bottled and mineral water brands and on a quarterly basis and publicise to the results for the information of the general public. The exercise of monitoring the quality of bottled water is carried out on the directives of the federal cabinet.

The samples used in the study were collected by senior staff members of the National Water Quality Laboratory and regional and district water quality laboratories of the PCRWR. “A set of four bottles of each brand was collected and sealed on site. Identification codes were allotted to all the brands according to the PCRWR Bottled Water Classification System,” explains the report.

According to the report, only 34 brands were consistently present in the market and 42 brands that were previously analysed in the last quarters of 2014 disappeared while 37 new brands or rebranded varieties were available in the market.

Drinking water quality is continuously deteriorating due to biological contamination from human waste, chemical pollutants from industries and agricultural inputs.

Citing reasons for the contamination, the report says that piped water also becomes contaminated because the pipes are laid very close to sewage lines or open drains, which are the cause of several water-borne diseases. It was found that 45 per cent of infant deaths in Pakistan could be attributed to diarrhoea and about 60 per cent to overall infectious waterborne diseases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 25 to 30 per cent of all diseases are gastro-intestinal in nature.

The poor quality of drinking water has forced a large cross-section of citizens to buy bottled water. As a consequence of this expanding market, a mushroom growth of bottled water manufacturers has been witnessed in the country over the past few years. However, many of the mineral water companies have been found to be selling contaminated water.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2015

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