Pesticide residues in bottled water

  • 14/02/2003

Pesticide residues in bottled water There was a time in the recently liberalised past when people didn't quite know how to refer to a new product called drinking water. They would say 'bottled water' and 'mineral water' to freely refer to one or the other kind of water, perhaps meaning the same one. It used to be confusing. People were not used to drinking water that had to be bought. People were getting used to paying money to drink water. Paying more money for their water than they did for milk everyday.

Now India is wholeheartedly, further liberalising. Now, people don't say 'bottled water' or 'mineral water'. These distinctions have become superfluous. Now, people simply ask for 'water'.

Actually technical terms for 2 hotly-selling products - the difference lies in product specifications - manufactured by the private sector, packaged drinking water (pdw) is nothing but ordinary water treated to meet certain quality standards, and packaged natural mineral water (pnmw)is that which is bottled at the source without any treatment. Clean spring water, in other words. Now, these terms have become completely fused, incorporated, into people's vocabulary and lives.

Packaged drinking water or natural mineral water are everywhere. They are available in pouches, cups, bottles and bulky transparent jars. They are sipped in clubs, malls and fitness centres; glugged after a walk, jog or trek; hunted for in railway stations and bus termini, or hurled in a traffic jam. People pick bottled waters from paan-shops, vendor stalls, department stores and supermarkets. Office architecture includes them, and ice-cream parlours, cafes, restaurants and hotels and cinemas always keep a stock.

How then should one react if told that this bottled water, supposedly cleaned for consumption, could contain deadly pesticide residues? One should react with disbelief and horror. Well, go ahead and do exactly that. For bottled water does contain pesticide residues. All kinds of bottled water, whether national (like Bisleri), or multinational (like Kinley). In most, the pesticide residues are above what would be acceptable limits.

Are citizens being fooled into thinking that their bottled water, sold by companies as the healthy and hygenic drink, is pure and drinkable?

34 bottles

Between July and December 2002, the Pollution Monitoring Laboratory (pml) of the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (cse) analysed 17 different brands of pdw and pnmw commonly sold in areas that fall within the national capital region of Delhi. The pml randomly bought two bottles of each of these brands from colonies and shopping areas such as Mayur Vihar, Defence Colony, Khan Market, ina Market, Green Park, Lodhi Road and Mathura Road in New Delhi, and from adjoining areas such as Noida, Ghaziabad and Meerut (in Uttar Pradesh state) and Gurgaon (in Haryana state).

The 34 bottles of pwd/pnmw so collected included a host of not-so-popular brands - Volga, Prime, Paras among others - and also the top five brands in the packaged water segment of the beverage market: Bisleri, manufactured by the Parle group; Bailley, also manufactured by Parle; Pure Life, a Nestle product; Aquafina, by Pepsico; and Kinley, from Coca Cola. Care was taken to ensure that no two bottles of the same brand were bought from the same area. Minscot, a brand popular brand in adjoining Gurgoan was also included, as was Aquaplus, sold mainly at railway stations. Once the 34 'samples' were procured, the pml began its analysis. The samples were tested to see if they contained pesticides. The tests were for two kinds of pesticides: organochlorine and organophosphorus pesticides. The pml tested the samples for 12 organochlorines, and 8 organophosphorus pesticides - covering the spectrum of pesticides most used in India.

Testing method
The pml tested the 34 samples with a widely and internationa-lly used methodology, approved by the United States Environment Protection Agency (usepa) for pesticide detection in drinking water. Extraction was done as per the given methodology and analysis by gas chromatograph (gc) with electron-capture detector using a capillary column. The detection limit for organochlorines was 0.1 nanogram, and 1 nanogram for organophosphorus pesticides.

The test results were compared to the European Economic Community's (eec) directive on drinking water called 80/778/eec. This standard provides 62 parameters on the "quality of water intended for human consumption", and is used as the norm all over Europe.

In the directive, parameter number 55 sets the limit for how much of a particular pesticide, and all pesticides taken together, can be allowed to exist in drinking water. It sets the maximum permissible concentration at 0.1 microgrammes per litre (

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