In May, we covered the BBC claim that imported Zamzam holy waters from a sacred well at Mecca being sold in some Muslim bookshops in London was contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic.
Association of Public Analysts President Dr Duncan Campbell was quoted as saying “The water is poisonous, particularly because of the high levels of arsenic, which is carcinogen. [sic] I would not recommend drinking this water.”
But is the Saudi government getting a bum rap on the safety of its holy water?
Although Ridiculously Simple Technology Can Save Millions from Arsenic Poisoning – arsenic can harm the liver and kidney and cause cancer at higher levels than the 10 micrograms per litre permitted by the WHO.
Fahd Turkistani, adviser to the Presidency for Meteorology and Environment, said the BBC Report focused on bottled water supplied not by the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs, but by unscrupulous individuals.
“Zamzam water contamination could have been caused by illegal workers who sell it from unsterlised containers at Makkah Gates. The Saudi Government has banned the sale of such water,” Mr Turkistani said.
Perhaps even more definitively, Saudi Arabia simply does not export its Zamzam water. So what is in the London muslim bookstores cannot be the officially sanctioned Zamzam.
The King Abdullah Zamzam Water Complex was built just last year in Mecca. It supplies 200,000 bottles a day from the Zamzam well, within the Masjid Al Haram, about 20 metres East of the Kaaba. But it does not export its water.
In a document refuting the claim by the BBC, Saudi Arabia undertook an independent study to find definitive results on different water samples, including Zamzam water. King Fahd University for Petroleum and Mineral Resources (KFUPM) conducted tests on Zamzam water using the latest laser spectrum disintegration technology, and gauged part-per-million levels of harmful materials.
They found that it contains “no harmful substances, including arsenic”. But the refutation goes on to claim that the amount of arsenic in Zamzam water is “much lower” than the 10 micrograms per litre permitted by the WHO.
And then, even more disconcertingly, the paper quotes Fahd Turkistani, adviser to the Presidency for Meteorology and Environment as saying “ultraviolet rays are applied to kill harmful bacteria.”
But this raises more questions than it answers. The most cursory google search for approved treatment methodologies for arsenic in water does not include the use of ultra-violet rays. Nor is arsenic “bacteria.”
Of course, it is possible that these are translation errors in the document in English, not exactly what Turkistani was saying. But for these reasons, the refutation is not entirely reassuring.