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Effluent standards superior to drinks

Calcutta, Aug. 17: Waste water will be five times “cleaner” than soft drinks, going strictly by prevailing permissible toxic standards.

If lead in effluents must not cross 0.1 mg per litre, lead in beverage can go up to 0.5 mg per litre. The maximum concentration of lead permissible in drinking water in the US is 0.015 mg per litre.

So, under the “clean” limits set by the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA), the beverage legally unfit to be disposed of as effluent under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) is more than fit to be consumed.

Scientists admit that the search for toxic metals in soft drinks will be pointless as whatever contamination the laboratories detect is bound to remain well within the “stipulated limits”. As for pesticides, there is no “legally enforceable” limit.

“The toxic metal standards for beverages set by the PFA are ridiculously relaxed,” says an environment expert.

So, the lead concentration found by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board in the “liquid effluent” released by Coca-Cola’s Dankuni plant (0.276 ppm) is not permissible for waste water, but will be perfectly acceptable in a beverage.

The focus is on lead as one of the two toxic metals found in the sludge at cola company plants in Bengal and Kerala, but the same syndrome is evident in arsenic content. If arsenic limit in groundwater is pegged at 0.05 mg per litre, in effluent it is 0.2 mg per litre and in beverage 0.5 mg per litre. It is much the same for a number of toxic metals.

“There is a lot of ambiguity between the PFA and the EPA,” says Utpal Roy Choudhury, food scientist at Jadavpur University.

“This question has been raised a number of times at different forums, but the authorities have never responded,” adds the secretary of the Calcutta chapter of the Association of Food Scientists and Technicians.

“There are strong lobbies at work. So, these outdated standards have stayed in place despite an amendment in PFA 1954,” says a food expert.

Meeting today

The Bureau of Indian Standards is meeting tomorrow to discuss a review of standards for soft drinks. It intends to make standards of all products “dynamic”, which means they will be revised according to the market and technological developments and not after a fixed time.

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