Chemical and microbiological content analysed; results to be given to Tribunal

For the past few days, microbiologists of the State government’s food analysis laboratory have been working round-the-clock, testing packaged drinking water samples.

The National Green Tribunal’s Southern Bench has given the laboratory time until Monday, to test samples taken by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) from 92 packaged drinking water units in and around the city.

These units were shut down 10 days ago, after TNPCB found they did not possess the required licences to operate.

The Bench took up a case about the quality of the water packaged at these units, following a report in The Hindu.

According to sources in TNPCB, around 80 samples have been given to the laboratory so far.

The samples are being tested for 30 chemical and microbiological parameters, which include the colour of the water, as well as content of nitrates, fluorides, zinc, sulphates, cyanide, sodium, lead, iron, borates and heavy metals. An aerobic microbial count will also be done.

The mere presence of cyanide could kill a person, arsenic causes arsenic poison and fluoride can lead to arthritis and mottling of teeth, say doctors.

Doctors also said the presence of salmonella in water could cause typhoid; e-coli would lead to diarrhoea, vibrio cholerae could cause cholera, and shigella would result in blood diarrhoea. These are among the eight microbiological parameters that are being tested.

“Everybody in the office has been working overtime. We have created teams so that there is no break in the testing process. We are positive that the results will be ready before the deadline,” said a source at the lab.

R.P. Ilangho, chest specialist, Apollo Breathe Easy Clinic, said that apart from infecting the digestive system, streptococci could also lead to sore throats, viral fever and rheumatic heart disease. “Because the throat is a common pathway for the lungs and the digestive tract, when a person consumes dirty water, the infection can spread to the lower respiratory tract and cause a disease. Persons with allergies including sinusitis, asthma, bronchitis and eosinophilia are more vulnerable,” he said.

According to S. Elango, former State director of public health, estimates show that the packaged drinking water industry in the State has an annual turnover of Rs. 2,000 crore. But nobody monitors the industry.

“Ultimately, it is the State’s responsibility to govern these units as water is a fundamental natural resource that is being exploited. The government should take immediate action and set up an authority to monitor the industry. Otherwise, the government should ensure that safe, potable drinking water is supplied through the water authority to meet every resident’s needs. One person requires 3-5 litres of water for cooking and drinking daily,” he said.

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