IN a country where 80 million people have no access to safe drinking water while 70 per cent of all diseases are said to be waterborne, the fact that some companies are selling contaminated bottled water is inexcusable. A report in this newspaper says that nearly half the bottled water samples collected and tested by the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority in Karachi have been found to be “tainted and unfit for human consumption”. The samples collected contained traces of E.coli and high levels of total dissolved salts, substances which can lead to gastroenteritis and kidney ailments. Perhaps what is most worrisome is the fact that many of the samples were collected from hospitals. The PSQCA has said two factories have been sealed while the other offending companies have been served show-cause notices.
Many surveys and studies have been published over the years from various cities pointing out those brands that apparently sell contaminated bottled water to the public. Some of these brands have the dubious distinction of appearing in every survey, yet the government does nothing to remove their products from the market. Hence the real problem appears to be enforcement of the law. Under the PSQCA Act, 1996 the authority has various options to penalise offending manufacturers, including imposing a fine or even the cancellation of licences. The authority needs to utilise all tools in its arsenal and fully apply the law: those brands that refuse to mend their ways and continue to sell unfit water to the public must be shut down. A proposal seeking a raise in the fine as well as an increase in the prison term for offenders should be considered. As with all matters concerning public health, the state’s complacency when it comes to allowing the sale of contaminated bottled water is unacceptable.

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