Cancer risk from bottled water: Experts

Innocent Ruwende Senior Reporter

Several companies are selling contaminated bottled water to unsuspecting Zimbabweans, with their product containing high levels of nitrites that are responsible for cancer, new research reveals. A team of University of Zimbabwe and Masvingo Polytechnic researchers has concluded that at least five brands of bottled water on the market are unfit for drinking.

The study shows that the brands of bottled water are contaminated with nitrites, viable bacteria and heavy metals to levels that exceed limits set by the World Health Organisation Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.

“Nitrites are transformed to amines and amides resulting in the formation of nitrosamines which have been found to cause gastric and oesophageal cancer,” the academics say.

“In infants, nitrite competes with oxygen for active sites on haemoglobin resulting in oxygen deprivation.
“For the safety of consumers, the nitrite levels in water should fall below the recommended maximum limit.”

The researchers included Professor Mark Zaranyika, Mr Power Ernest Gombiro, Ms Kudzai Mugadza, Mr Joe Mukaro, Mr Gerard Ashley and Mr Chakare Benhura from the UZ departments of Chemistry, Food, Nutrition and Family Sciences, Biological Sciences and from Masvingo Polytechnic.

The research, titled “Drinking Water Quality Assessment in Zimbabwe: A Case Study of Bottled Drinking Water from Selected Retail Outlets in Harare”, has been published in the Journal of Chemical, Biological and Physical Sciences.

The academics do not name the water brands sampled because research ethics bar them from doing so.

“The water from some brands considered for the study may be condemned as unfit for consumption on the basis of lead, cadmium and chromium which exceeded set health based limits,” the academics say.

“Three of the five brands had cadmium concentrations well above the set limits. The concentrations of lead and chromium in all brands exceeded the limits stipulated by WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. The nitrite levels for four brands were also found to be exceeding the limit set by WHO guidelines for drinking Water Quality.”

The academics note that the unchecked proliferation of bottled water brands poses a threat to consumers’ health, and urge bottling companies to uphold good production practices.

The academics say the bottled water in question may be contaminated by micro-organisms like pseudomonas, aeromonas, flavobacterium, pasteurella, xanthomonas and staphylococcus.

Chemical contamination of bottled water may arise from contaminated water or materials used in making the bottles, they observe.
Toxic metals, the academics say, could be released from polyethylene tere-phthalate (PET) into the water.

The consumption of bottled water in Zimbabwe increased from 2008 because of inadequate supplies of tap water, especially in big cities like Harare.

In 2011, Government condemned and banned 40 bottled water brands, saying their product was unsuitable for consumption because of contamination, unsuitable packaging and wrong labelling among other factors.

Government, however, did not name the brands fit for consumption.
But the Standards Association of Zimbabwe certified 12 water bottling firms after independent surveillance.

The companies SAZ certified in 2011 were Schweppes Zimbabwe Ltd, Tanganda Tea Company Ltd, Century Ice, ZLG, Brackenridge T/A Kanyerere Investment, Reichmark, Aqua Crystal, Chromopak Investments, Somerby, Chilruff T/A Springvale, Mukati Investments and Blester Marketing.

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  • idi amin

    Wat research ethics encourage the suffering of innocent people? ZRP or SAZ should seize the research findings and prosecute the companies involved!
    Such ethics need to be revised and realigned with reality, wat good is research that is kept on a bookshelf? did you really carry out a research or was this just a scheme to chop donor money? Dont waste our time with mickey mouse talk, this is serious business otherwise write a novel, add to thw mills and boone series!

    • Mai 2

      Wabaya dede Idi if the brands are not mentioned then the research has been a waste of time and resources as it is not helping the ordinary man on the street. We buy that mineral water kubikira vana mukaka tichiti tirikugona yet we are slowly poisoning our kids; vamwe voti research ethics njani njani!

    • The Watchers

      idi amin you are misdirecting your anger,in countries like the USA they have a govt department called the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) this department is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring that foods are safe,wholesome, sanitary and properly labelled. They also have the US department of Agric responsible for inspecting meat from poltry and livestock to also make sure its safe for public consumption.So in short its the responsibility of our govt and, not these professors who were conducting a survey for their own personal case study.How do you expect these guys to reveal the names of these companies when they are protected by govt? Govt refused to publish the brands they considered fit for consumption? Legally these companies can sue these professors if they publish their names.Its a shame that we have EMA thats supposed to protect the environment yet we don,t have anyone protecting the public.In most countries they will not let anybody sell a product to the public without it being inspected this is a shame. How did they get their licences? Could it be possible some of these companies are owned by politicians?Now that the professors have unearthed this problem its up to our govt to act if they care about public health.

      • Jotham

        The is not the USA or Europe were funny Govt. departments only target black offenders – Unenge chidhakwa iwe.

    • Caveman

      Iwe idi amin lets not get carried away here,the air that we breath in most of our cities does not meet world health organisation guidlines,too much pollution from the junk cars we buy from Japan. Did you know those fumes you breath everyday causes cancer too? Do you know the use of asbestors in the US is prohibited because asbestors cause a form of cancer called mesothilioma? Do you know radiation from cellphones cause cancer?In developed countries cars have to be inspected every yr to make sure the emission levels are acceptable.The water from city of Harare wouldn,t pass world health organisation guidelines.Saka imwai mvura makanyarara,do you think our roads meet world standards? Namatirai chikafu chenyu musati madya kuti Mwari vachiropafadze haikona zvetuma risechi twenyu utwu.

      • Alison

        So why waste time and money on such a research, and why publishing such findings on public media such as this one? Once you start informing the public about such findings, they need to know all the information at hand, otherwise the who nation will go on panic mode.. Even those that are in the business of producing bottled water will be greatly affected…..

    • Hacha Ndizvo

      You may as well leave SAZ out of this. Those guys are so useless to the extent that they will certify anything even your cheating with your Hungry House.

    • Zuruvi

      ZRP yapinda papi apa, vaku Polisa zveMvura manje? Get real. The relevent ministry should just close down the companies and ALL their products confiscated and then destroyed.

      • idi amin

        if u r poisoning peoples that is criminal must be punished! arrested! now my point was simply that the offending companies need to be named how wat ministry steps in? to deal with who? they are not named! zrp put the squeeze on the researchers for the greater good! otherwise this article is malicious and tarnishes the image of all local bottled water manufactures, thereby promoting foreign waters in our sovereign nation! it will cause unnecessary alarm and despondency, we cant have that.

  • dubula

    is it of any help if u cant tell us the brands

    • Caveman

      The purpose of the study was never to help you.For them its mission accomplished.

    • Vamambo

      Dont worry…the samples were collected in 2011… and we are in 2014… i believe things have changed now.

      • Jotham

        Changed for the worst. Check the contents closely.

  • Misty J

    Save us from cancer, name the poisoned water Wells please.

    • Chilo

      Dying from cancer better than drinking sewerage filled water that is supplied by town councils.

  • Tinomwa yemufuku

    us poor people we are safe, bottled water is for the elites. No wonder they have all
    these complicated cancers!

  • Taona

    saka since mazviona nhasi??? N’xaaaa

  • leemoyo

    This article is lacks insight, it doesnt tell us what levels they got and hat levels are normal. Lets not forget that nitrites and nitrates are equally important in our bodies with the saliva containing higher concentration, for man without nitric oxide there will be erectile problems etc.

    I am not sure if these researchers should be called “experts’ or just bloggers. I would have expected a comprehensive study with data showing a correlation between drinking water sales and cancer cases.

    For benefits of nitrites and nitrates check this
    Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits.Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):1-10.PMID: 19439460

    • Hacha Ndizvo

      My dear friend – for that kind of information you will need to read the journal that these esteemed people have published. News is not lessons

      • leemoyo

        Esteemed- nice one Hacha

    • professor.

      The study you’re pointing out that it could have been carried out, is another area which is worthy studying, but cannot rubbish this current one. I will be happy if you carry it out, not instructing others to do it. Thanx pal.

  • Abel

    ukateedzera these so called experts, you end up going nowhere, sitting indoors all the time and eating nothing and drinking nothing , then dying of nothing. ngavatibvirepo mhani.

    • Jotham

      thanks man

      • Abel

        For what now?

  • wt


    • Boutros Boutros Ghali

      The Govt already has the Food and Food Standards law that is supposed to
      be enforced by the Ministry of Health. Officials of that ministry are
      always on the plane flying out to inspect food imports at source, where
      they get hefty allowances, while they are sleeping on duty when it comes
      to locally produced goods such as this mineral water

  • justsaying

    is this the way of justice “protecting the murderer”

    • Jotham

      Which murder? – if a rich well to do individual drinks bottled water it means he has cash for the Doctors.

  • Concerned

    I think its important that the companies selling compromised water be named. So that we as consumers can immediately stop buying their product. This research doesn’t help if we are left to continue drinking their bottled water. Just recently the newspapers released an article saying cancer is now the number 1 killer. Could it be possible that such companies are contributing to this increase? Good ethics in my humble opinion would favour disclosure rather than safeguarding profit at the risk of increasing the nation to high chances of getting cancer. May the authorities please do something about this!!!

  • oma

    Where is SAZ when all of this is happening? Someone is getting paid for doing nothing.

  • Side Effects

    nxaaa.. research…findings….then what? To the library? haa? no wonder we have the highest literacy rate in Africa yet we are among the poorest. Knowledge without application is nothing fellas!!!

  • Mhofu

    These cancer stories are now annoying

    chese chese chine cancer

    chicken,pork,fish.beef.fresh chips, mardson, beef, busking in sunlight

    cooking oil, tea, …………………………………………………………………..uncircumcised dick

    torarama sei

    • Jotham

      This is a very good long question. Heeee cancer go to hell


    Of what use is the research if the calprits are not named. should we then continue drinkig contaminated water? please get serious before we label you bogus researchers.

  • chinos

    Last week it was Harare water safe for drinking and this week its now bottled water unsafe…how ironic.
    Is it ethical for the researchers to maintain their silence so that the water bottlers continue killing us.

    • idi amin

      Now here is the kicker, the weird thing is the unsafe water is actually bottled at source COUNCIL TAPS!!!! I cant even find how its walking!

  • wt

    What is the purpose of doing research whose outcomes does not benefit society. Why waste money and fund this type of research?

  • daniel101

    the last time we highlighted how odd and strange that you central intelligence guys at herald ,were advocating rigorously how Harare water was now suddenly clean and people should drink it and you carried a dubious water tests that could not be verified ,now knowing that most urban dwellers have resorted to bottled water ,you now claim it now causes cancer or is unsafe to drink(and yet you fail to name the companies).please we know you are on a war path .we will not drink council water.

    you claim that “Chemical contamination of bottled water may arise from contaminated water or materials used in making the bottles, they observe.Toxic metals, the academics say, could be released from polyethylene tere-phthalate (PET) into the water.” my question is how then that council with old dilapidated water pipes that are said to be 50Yrs old by the town clerk and with all your intelligence or lack of it feel that council water is safe yet it passes through contaminated water pipes full of rust and even metal matter is pumped along with the water.the idea of decongestion of harare by 2018 is at play ,where water bone disease are to plague many ,who will then relocate to other places which the ministry of local government was tasked on creating to ensure 2018 elections will be stolen on the basis of migration of people from the bigger cities to smaller towns ,hence the zimasset point of building thousands of homes .
    imwai mega mvura ye council kuzanu pf .some might say iam mad,but when did cholera occur ,was it not towards 2008 elections,when they contaminated water supplies ,so as to burden us with sickness and incapacitate us to vote by diverting the people attention on the most important thing to that of fear and disassociation from society ..yes cdes for one to stay in power they can kill you,or displace you to other parts so as to easily manipulable numbers during elections.

    • kuta kinte

      daniel101 It looks like you and The Watcher cannot discuss anything without a political component being forced into your discussions. The issue is simply about bottled drinking water in which case, some brands have been tested and the results have been given to you as in this article.

  • pepe

    so what are the recommendations

  • Wezhira

    Saka tomwei vakomana Harare water inogwarisa, bottled water inoitisa Cancer..unotoshaya kuti zvichafambiswa sei

    • idi amin

      Buy SA water, at least the report on their bottled water was lost, or has not been done or was done and action taken against those selling crap in water! the bottom line is their water is certified safe globally, i think….;

  • Hlahla Hamburamatope

    No where to run for the disfranchised, meanwhile the Government of recycled deadwoods continue to have its priorities mixed, PYCHOMOTOR is the nu one issue, in the President’s office not water, not electricity, not health ……that’s why they can afford to recycle the Murerwas and Misimirebwa.. to the looting Club.. they eat for us. Meanwhile, Chidhakwa has gone on a French Leave, Kuma Diamonds kwachidzi ziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii aah aya.

  • tennus

    everyday we live its by the grace of God.

  • Mangwende we Chinhoyi

    Nyaya iyi inombondifungisa mvura yatainwa tichifudza mombe, kudhibha, munzizi, pamufuku, mutsime, muzvibhorani etc. If we continue with such studies to all the water sources mentioned and also not mentioned, you will discover that we need many research teams for us to have an element of trust on all our survival water sources. You will be told that this water source has an excess of this while that water source has a deficiency of that. Remember that vakuru vedu vakazogumusira vave kuti ” mvura haina n’anga” and I do not know how many people subscribe to that. Researches should continue being carried out anywhere as our education record has it to tell.

  • makwavarara


  • Jotham

    Those who drink this bottled water have a superiority complex and I am happy that they will pay the price- cancer yauya. Obviously the rich are being affected here, toko makaura. Kutoseka isu tinomwa mvura dzizere sewage tirinani. Why prosecute offenders regayi vakafuma vafevo. munorwadziwa neyi. Most commentators are rich that is why they are not happy. imwayi bottled water imwi vekumaDaldale.

  • idi amin

    Hei! Me I cant even find how its walking!