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H2Oh? Zam Zam water, what you should know.

In July 2010, the Food Standards Agency(FSA) stated that “In the absence of any authoritative data on the composition of genuine Zam Zam water it is not possible for UK Authorities to confirm whether water purchased in the UK or brought into the UK as a personal import is genuine Zam Zam water or not.”

Zam Zam water first came to the media spotlight in 2005, following Muslim community representatives who attended the FSA’s Muslim Organisation’s Working Group over concerns of Zam Zam water increasingly being found on sale and that it may be fake. The water was tested and failed to meet UK legislation for Arsenic levels which were found to be twice the levels permitted. The FSA contacted the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia Office of the Commercial Attache in London who issued a letter to state that “Zam Zam water is listed by Saudi Customs amongst the prohibited commodities for export. It is also not allowed to officially trade in Zam Zam water within or outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” In October 2005, the FSA issued a media release alerting consumers not to drink this water due to the health risk posed of cancer and instructed Port Health authorities and local council’s Environmental Health and Trading Standard Departments to check for this dubious water on sale and take appropriate action.

Stories published of the black market trade of Zam Zam water, fuelled by an increase in criminal gangs involved in a multi-pound scam duping Muslims into believing that bottles labelled as Zam Zam water as the genuine source from Mecca. The advice was repeated in 2006, but now including Nitrate being 3 times the permitted level which affect the body’s ability to carry oxygen and a particular risk to infants. After 2007, very little appears in the media, problem resolved?

The FSA’s 2010 press release includes new advice that water bought back into the country as a personal import following a visit to Mecca has been tested and shows similar levels of Arsenic and Nitrates previously found and advise consumers to be cautious.

Arsenic is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in soil, below ground, deep in the bedrock and it’s through chemical and microbial action that releases it into water plus from external sources e.g. pesticides. Arsenic is a known genotoxic carcinogen, there is no safe threshold limit and it may take one lethal dose to start the cancer forming change in the body.  The guidelines for acceptable arsenic and nitrates levels has been set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and applied to the Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Drinking Water Regulations 1999 (SI 1999/1540) as amended by SSI 2003/139, the maximum arsenic limit of 10 μg/l is permitted. However, the Drinking Water Engineering and Science, Germany in 2009, published a paper entitled: Arsenic in drinking water: a worldwide water quality concern for water supply companies (D. van Halem, S. A. Bakker , G. L. Amy , and J. C. van Dijk). State that the problem of arsenic in groundwater and drinking water has been found worldwide and that at the  levels set by WHO, the health risks can not be excluded and moreover, it is possible for arsenic removal to <1 μg/l.

I have been personally involved in the testing of water labelled as Zam Zam water since 2005, there is a reluctance by some members of the Muslim community to accept this information and plus an element of trust in the testing, unfortunately, there has been very little co-operation by the Saudi Authority which has fuelled this uncertainty and doubt!

The health risk implications cannot be ignored. Muslims are commanded by Allah(swt) not to consume food/drink detrimental to health. Zam Zam water can be diluted and by doing this it does not remove the benefits of drinking this highly esteemed water source on earth. We have approached the FSA to request for a dilution factor but non has been provided. We suspect the FSA will re-isse this advice before ramadan every year! As local authority resources come under greater squeeze with cuts in funding this issue may get shelved to bring it to the consumers attention that the problem continues to exist.

If you see the water on sale or have bought it into the country as a personal import and concerned please do contact your local Environmental Health/Trading Standards Departments.

Ruksana Shain

Environmental Health Practitioner

Member of the FSA’s Muslim Organisation’s Working Group

19th August 2010.

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