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ISLAMABAD: A parliamentary committee on Friday observed that the permissible limit of carcinogenic arsenic in drinking water set by the government was too high.

Pakistan Council for Research in Water Research Chairman Dr Mohammad Ashraf informed the Senate Standing Committee on Science and Technology that the limit of arsenic in drinking water worldwide was set at 10 parts per million (ppm).

“In Pakistan that limit has been set at 50ppm,” Dr Ashraf told the committee, claiming it was safe for human consumption.

The committee met for a briefing on steps taken by the research organisation under the Ministry of Science and Technology to ensure that the citizens had access to drinking water free of arsenic and other contaminants. But the committee wondered why Pakistan did not bring the permissible limit of the dangerous chemical down in line with other countries.

Global permissible limit is 10 ppm whereas in Pakistan it is 50ppm

Dr Ashraf explained that the levels of arsenic in the Himalayan region, including countries such as Bangladesh, India and China, were high where permissible levels of arsenic in drinking water were also as high as 50ppm.

“Treating groundwater for arsenic is an extremely difficult exercise for which the government does not have the necessary means and resources. Above all, the arsenic waste, if dumped in the environment, will create more catastrophes.”

Giving the example of Lahore, Dr Ashraf said if the permissible limit of arsenic was reduced from 50ppm to 10ppm, drinking water in the city would be 100pc unsafe for human consumption.

This bit of information did not go well with the committee. Senator Osman Saifullah Khan of the PPP argued that the government cannot permit a high level of cancer causing arsenic in water for its failure to treat drinking water of the poisonous chemical.

The committee learnt that in places such as D.I. Khan, Bahawalpur and Dadu etc., the level of arsenic in groundwater was considerably high.

However, Dr Ashraf explained that the local governments were concerned about the high arsenic contamination in groundwater and were collaborating with the PCRWR for guidance to extract water from deeper in the ground where the percentage of arsenic was much less.

Responding to questions from the senators, the expert said water in most cities in Balochistan was unsafe for consumption.

“In Ziarat alone, water is almost 100pc unsafe for human consumption,” Dr Ashraf said.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2017