When I buy mineral water, though I don’t usually read the label, I generally expect it to contain the usual sodium, magnesium, calcium salts. Commercial bottled waters in most countries I have travelled to supply this information as a result of a legal requirement.

What did come as a surprise was the approximate mineral composition information supplied on label of a bottle of MUM natural mineral water, bottled and distributed by Partax Beverages in Bangladesh. This, advertised on the company’s website with the byline ‘It comes naturally’, reassures the customer that ‘MUM natural drinking water conforms to WHO and BSTI guidelines. It is rich in minerals, well-balanced and ideal for people of all ages.’

TDS (total dissolved solids) <250 mg/L

Arsenic (as As) Nil

Lead (as Pb) 0.01 mg/L

Cyanide (as CN) Nil.

Well that’s a relief, though this label is somewhat different from the European ones that boast of their magnesium or calcium contents, or even the spring water that declared proudly that it is ‘gluten free’.

What I was clearly naïve enough not to realise was that the issue of naturally occurring levels of arsenic and cyanide in Bangladesh’s spring water is real. In fact, CAB Abstracts will generate a short history on the country’s relationship with its water supply for you if you simply enter the search string ‘water AND contamination AND Bangladesh’.

Way back in 1992, Khan and colleagues were warning us about the dangers of bottled water in Bangladesh; but this paper in the World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology concentrated on the microbiological quality of waters available on the market. Since then, presumably as the immediate threat from water-borne pathogens has become less severe, it became increasingly evident that Bangladesh’s water is naturally high in arsenic.

Professor Ravi Naidu and colleagues at the University of South Australia’s Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment and Remediation published a book on the subject in 2006. Entitled Managing Arsenic in the Environment: From Soil To Human Health, the author’s of this book’s 38 chapters tackled the subject from all angles and ends with a highlight of some management strategies. Also in 2006, Professor Naidu’s collaboration with the University of Dhaka in Bangaldesh resulted in the conclusion that arsenic-safe drinking water could be assured, as the makers of MUM so proudly boast; and the attention has now shifted to its accumulation in vegetables and other foods that don’t have the luxury of being irrigated or processed with bottled water.

Many thanks to Dr. Lückstädt of Wismar, Germany for supplying the label.


Naidu et al. (Ed.). Managing Aresenic in the Environment: from Food to Human Health (2006). 656 pages. CSIRO Publishing, Australia.

Huq et al. (2006). Aresenic contamination in the food chain: transfer of arsenic into food materials through groundwater irrigation. Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. Vol. 24 (3), pp. 305-316.

Khan et al. (1992). A bacteriological profile of bottled water sold in Bangladesh. World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology. Vol. 8(5), pp. 544-545.

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