Think before you drink

A petition exposes bungling by the Bureau of Indian Standards, which allows reverse osmosis
filters to be sold without ISI certification, posing a health hazard.

Published: 18th June 2017 07:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th June 2017 10:22 AM   |  A+A-

Image for representational purpose only.

NEW DELHI: The country is facing a serious water crisis of a different nature. RO (reverse osmosis) filter machines available in India are sold without the mandatory certification of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), making the water they treat potentially dangerous to health. BSI rules mandate that any product sold in India, which relates to the safety of the consumer, needs the ISI mark.

The BIS in its wisdom has omitted to include ROs from its list, though many big bottled water companies have procured ISI certification—most trusted safety stamp for Indian consumers. Acting on a petition from an NGO, ‘Friends’, the National Green Tribunal has sought a response from the Ministry of Water Resources and other concerned bodies. RO companies, which aggressively market their products with celebrities offering 100 per cent pure water, do not declare whether their water meets the approval of the certifying authority.

On a RTI question whether the companies have applied for certification, BIS said all queries  have been sent to various departments. Moreover, though the BIS has failed to set the minimum level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)—the dissolved ionized solids, such as salts and minerals in water—it has specified the maximum level at 500 ppm. The lower TDS level is 30 ppm at which the mineral content in water are kept at safe levels. De-mineralised water is mostly used in batteries and various industrial works.

The petition points out RO manufacturers are blatantly flouting the statutory BIS rules which state that “all RO manufacturers should write on their products that ‘RO system is not recommended for Arsenic level above 0.01 mg/l and Fluoride level above 8.0 mg/l’”. With water in Indian homes coming from questionable sources and containing various toxic substances and chemicals, there is no guarantee that ROs have the capability to treat it to meet health safety standards, thanks to BIS.

In places where arsenic and fluoride levels exceed the said prescribed limits of water, people who use Reverse osmosis (RO) filters do not realise they are drinking poisonous water. “They are misled into believing they are drinking so-called safe water purified by their RO filters because of marketing gimmicks by the filter companies,” the petition alleged.

RO companies are blatantly flouting the National Water Policy 2012. BIS has allowed up to 80 per cent wastage of pre-treated potable water or ground water for point-of-use RO water filters, contrary to the water policy.

“The RO system was originally invented to create potable water from otherwise unusable sea water and was never meant for filtering ground water. At present, lakhs of people are buying RO systems, meaning that lakhs of people will waste around 80 per cent of potable water,” the plea said, seeking restraint on the sale of ROs that are selling without mandatory ISI certification.

A study by Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2015 states, “The waste water from the ROs contains high amount of total dissolved salts like sulphates, calcium, bicarbonates and organic matter and higher concentration of arsenic and fluoride waste water generated by RO systems could have adverse consequences for human and animal health after it is dumped back.”

According to NGO, Water Aid, which works for access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation, 75.8 million Indians are faced with the choice of either spending money to buy 50 litres of water daily, or use chemically and sewage-contaminated water. As many as 140,000 children die of diarrhoea every year in India. Health awareness about the quality of drinking water in India has led to a booming water industry, which is expected to reach Rs 160 billion in 2018.



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