Before grabbing the next bottle of ‘chilled mineral water’ to beat the heat, think thrice. The West Bengal Pollution Control Board (PCB) has sounded this alarm, after detecting bacteria in 10 brands of bottled water available in the city.
Nearly 150,000 litres of bottled drinking water are sold in the city every day. Upon receiving complaints about the quality and “unscientific packaging” of bottled water, the consumer affairs department, the PCB and the Enforcement Branch of the city police collected 250 bottles of packaged water under 15 labels from shops across the city, which were then sent to the state PCB lab for testing.
The samples were collected from Ballygunge, Gariahat, Gol Park, Park Circus, Kidderpore, Ultadanga, Beniapukur, Esplanade, Behala and the Howrah and Sealdah stations.
Coliform and other bacteria were found in 70 samples of 10 brands of the packaged water samples. The brands were a mix of well-known companies and smaller labels. Apart from Coliform, harmful bacteria like Acineto Bactor, Proteus, Clostridium, Pseudomonas and Serratia were also detected.
According to analysts and bacteriologists, these bacteria can cause a range of diseases (see box).
“Repeated tests on the samples indicate the presence of Coliform and other harmful bacteria in packaged water. We have identified the shops from which the tainted samples were collected and legal action has been initiated,’’ said state PCB chairman Hirak Ghosh.
The water sold by “some reputed companies” is “not fit for human consumption”, according to Ghosh. “It appears that manufacturers have not been adhering to the norms laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards. City shops have also been flooded with adulterated packaged drinking water,” he added.
The state agencies have been swamped with complaints from consumers on the poor packaging and bad quality of bottled drinking water.
“Our department is responsible for ensuring the correct weight and packaging and storing methods of all bottled water variants, but it has no right to check its quality. For that, we need the intervention of the PCB,” explained Naren De, consumer affairs minister.
Bottles with fake labels, bearing the ISI stamp and faulty caps, have also been found to fill store coolers. “We will bust the water adulteration racket threatening consumers across the city and take action against those behind it,’’ said De.
Action will first be taken against shop-owners found selling contaminated water, said Ghosh, before the crackdown on dealers and all those connected with the distribution of the spurious and contaminated water.
To prevent sale of water filled in used and resealed bottles, the government proposes to make compulsory the scrapping of all plastic water-bottles.
“Laws relating to the environment, food and water are framed by the Centre. So, we are sending a proposal to the Union government to amend the existing regulations to prevent re-use of plastic bottles,” Ghosh concluded.