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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ministries pass buck over water

Ministries pass buck over water

Questions over the safety standards of Cambodian bottled drinking-water have been

raised by the discovery that no government department holds overall responsibility

for testing bottled water.

According to government regulations, all bottled water must be tested for impurities

by the Ministry of Industry every three months.

However, government inspectors have been accused of not fulfilling their tasks to

the full with the result that many bottled waters are on sale without adequate safety

checks.

At the Ministry of Industry, Chea Kong, the Chief of Cabinet, denied responsibility

for testing bottled water and insisted the Department of Health held overall responsibility.

But at the Health Ministry, Dr Krang Sun Lorn said responsibility for water was being

transferred to the Ministry for Rural Development.

Although Dr Krang absolved himself from responsibility, he cited examples of bottling

plants filling large containers direct from the tap without passing the water through

any purification process.

Meanwhile at city hall, Nak Tanavulk insisted the Health Ministry should test bottled

waters.

"But this is only theory," he pointed out.

"Up until now this has not been done and since the May elections I don't think

anyone has given the matter much thought."

The two brands of bottled water tested by the Pasteur Institute last week as part

of a Post survey appeared to have failed safety tests on more than one occasion.

Random samples of Angkor Wat brand water, sold in one-liter bottles, contained between

0.05 and 0.1 mg of nitrites per liter, while Anglo Natural Drinking Water, sold in

large refillable containers, failed on two counts - organic matter of 2.10mg per

liter, and nitrite levels of between 0.150 and 0.210 mg per liter.

The Pasteur Institute is one of the few organizations to regularly test water samples

and results are available for public scrutiny.

Srei Chanthan, who conducted the tests for the Post, said Angkor Wat or Anglo Water

had failed several safety tests.

In analysis dated Nov. 30, 1992, Angkor Wat water was found to contain an "unacceptably

high" bacteria and chloroform count. Anglo Water previously failed tests with

nitrite levels of 0.2mg.

Nitrites usually imply the presence of E-coli, according to Dr Gavin Scott of Access

Medical Services, who believes high levels "can affect the heart. But it depends

on the concentration".

Nitrites can occasionally find their way into water supplies if farmers uses excessive

levels of chemical fertilizer.

Phnom Penh's tap water supply often goes untreated because of a shortage of purifying

chemicals - a claim backed up by Dr Chea of the Health Ministry.

New international guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO) stress

the importance of protection from microbal contamination and call for vigorous disinfection

of drinking water.

WHO maintains that nearly 50 percent of people in developing countries suffer from

health problems directly linked to insufficient or contaminated water and that the

current global cholera pandemic can only be halted by the provision of safe drinking

water and appropriate hygiene measures.

Diarrhoeal diseases - usually caused by water-born pathogens such as salmonella,

E. coli, shigella and enteroviruses - are among the leading cause of illness and

death among children under five years of age with 1,600,000,000 cases and 3,200,000

deaths worldwide annually.

"The risks to health from disinfectants and their by-products are extremely

small in comparison to the risks associated with inadequate disinfection," maintains

Dr Hend Gaval Gorchev a WHO specialist.

The Pasteur Institute charges $10 to test each water sample for salt, organic material,

nitrites, ammonia and iron.

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