Dubai: Two bottled water companies have been shut down for selling bad quality water, the Dubai Municipality said.
The municipal laboratory also rejected 40 samples of the 800 received last year as "unsatisfactory" because of chemical and organic contaminants, it said.
When a sample is found "unsatisfactory," the product batch is recalled and the company has to take immediate action, said Shaikha Al Jalaf, head of the food and environment section at the laboratory.
The municipality regularly checks tap water in schools, shopping centres, hospitals and commercial buildings, she said.
Most of the residents of Dubai drink bottled water and not tap water, according to Dubai Municipality officials.
People here feel bottled water is safer than tap water.
"I never drink tap water. I have no idea where the water originates, whether it is safe or clean or filtered," said Wael Obaid, 28, lawyer who has been living in Dubai for three years. "It is safer to drink bottled water, and tap water is always warm anyway," he adds.
Although water provided by Dewa (Dubai Electricity and Water Authority) is safe to drink, it is the water distribution system that might affect the quality and push consumers towards drinking bottled water to ensure their health and safety, according to the municipality.
The Dubai Municipality Central Laboratory receives 3,417 samples of bottled and non-bottled drinking water yearly, according to Al Jallaf.
The laboratory tests water for contaminants, heavy metals such as lead and mercury, solids, turbidity, organic pollutants, pesticide residues, bacteria and pathogens. An "unsatisfactory" result of the chemical and microbiological tests indicates bad quality of water.
Of the samples received every year, 800 are from local bottled drinking water companies. "Five per cent of this sample received an 'unsatisfactory' verdict from the laboratory," Adnan Al Jallaf, Head of the Food Safety Section in the Food Control Department, said.
When that happens, the product batch is recalled from the market and the company has to take corrective action.
Companies also face a fine of Dh1,000, which is doubled upon further violations.
The municipality routinely checks tap water in schools, shopping centres, hospitals, mosques and commercial buildings. Residential buildings are only checked on request from the residents or if they file a complaint at the municipality.
Water in the UAE mostly comes from seawater, which is desalinated, according to municipality experts. The bottled drinking water requires further purification and treatment.
Labels on bottles
Labels on bottled water indicate either 'natural,' meaning the water is treated and does not originate from a spring or well, or 'mineral water', which naturally contains minerals. In both cases, companies are obliged to indicate the source of the water on the label of the bottles.
One Lebanese project engineer says he does not trust bottled water as there is no clear labels on the composition of the water. "Most people decide on a certain brand of bottled water on hearsay. They buy bottled water of well-known brands regardless of the quality control in those factories," said Rami Atme.
The labels on the bottles indicate the concentration of certain minerals in the bottled water as well as the acidity of the water and its hardness. The Dubai Municipality gives companies limits on the maximum concentration for each ingredient.
"If you select drinking water based on whether it contains more nutrients, you should know that more minerals does not mean that the water is healthier... Sodium could affect blood pressure and iron becomes poisonous if it exceeds a certain limit," said Abdul Moaty, senior chemistry specialist.
According to Dubai Municipality, 80 per cent of the companies in Dubai adhere to the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) standard, which obliges them to run daily tests of their products, document them and send it to the municipality.
The UAE drinking water standards also follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) international standards for non-bottled water and the International Food Code (CODEX) standards for bottled water.
If consumed over a long period of time, contaminants found in water could lead to colon problems, abdominal pain, poisoning and other health risks, according to Hamid Mohammad Ebrahim, Senior Food Microbiologist at the Dubai Central Laboratory Department, Food and Environment Section.
Another cause of contamination is the plastic bottles.
"We are hearing a lot in international media about certain kinds of plastic bottles that were found to be carcinogenic. Bottling companies should be monitored to ensure that these types of plastics are not used in the bottles we drink," said Atme.
Moaty said plastic bottles affect the quality of water, which can be noticed in the smell and taste of the water. "Leaching and migrating chemicals from plastics could accumulate in human bodies and are carcinogenic and attack livers and other organs," he said.
Experts advise consumers not to use bottles more than once and to keep them away from sunlight.
"It's advisable not to reuse bottles because they are made and meant for one-time use only," Natascha Edelmann, Head of Marketing at Masafi Mineral Water, said.
Dubai Municipality officials assure residents that tap water is safe but that water tanks where it is stored could affect its quality.
For this reason, the Food Control Department has directed 10 companies to clean water tanks in buildings across Dubai.
"Landlords tend to neglect cleaning water pipes so we selected 10 reliable companies to do the job," Adnan Al Jallaf said.
"Residents should let the municipality know if they have doubts about the quality of tap water so that the municipality can take action."
Chemical experts advise people to use water filters that can eliminate solids, contaminants and other microorganisms.