The perils of contaminated water are well known. So is the unfortunate fact that unscrupulous vendors will try to capitalise on high demand for a product to make a quick buck.
It is, therefore, reassuring that the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources undertakes regular testing of mineral and bottled water brands available in the country.
Its report for the period of January to March 2015, based on the results of testing 71 brands of mineral and bottled water collected from across the country, declares eight as being “completely unsafe” for human consumption on various grounds.
Several of them contain levels of arsenic, sodium and potassium either moderately or far higher than the permissible limits set by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority. These chemicals can cause various ailments, including diabetes, kidney problems, hypertension and even cancer.
Three brands were found to be unsafe due to “microbiological contamination which may cause cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis and typhoid etc”.
The quarterly exercise by the PCRWR is certainly helpful for consumers and may even be having a deterrent effect. In the first quarter of last year for instance, 21 brands of mineral and bottled water were found to be contaminated compared to eight this time.
In November 2014, the PSQCA in a press release went further and declared it was illegal to buy or sell eight brands of water found unfit for human consumption during that monitoring cycle. Violating the ban, it said, would attract a fine of at least Rs50,000 and one year behind bars.
However, without stringent implementation of the law, repeat offenders — as well as new, fly-by-night concerns — may resume the lucrative business of selling contaminated water masquerading as ‘pure’ and ‘safe’ to lure consumers.
Under its mandate to check deceptive marketing and oversee consumer protection issues, the Competition Commission of Pakistan can also play a role here. Consumers themselves cannot be expected to stay abreast of periodic reports that inform them which brands of bottled water are safe.
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2015