Saudi authorities have refuted a BBC report claiming that the Zamzam well in Makkah is polluted and that drinking the holy water could cause diseases such as cancer.
Zuhair Nawab, president of Saudi Geological Survey (SGS), denied the allegation and said his organization has taken adequate measures to ensure the safety of Zamzam well and its water.
The BBC said it had asked a pilgrim to take samples from the Zamzam water taps in Makkah and the Zamzam water being sold in bottles to compare them with the water on sale illegally.
“These showed high levels of nitrate and potentially harmful bacteria, and traces of arsenic three times the permitted level, just like the illegal water, which was purchased in the UK,” the BBC said, referring to contaminated holy water sold in some UK shops.
Nawab said his organization has been responsible for monitoring the quality of Zamzam water, which not only concerns Saudi Arabia but the whole Islamic world. “Our experts monitor the condition of Zamzam on a daily basis. Every day we take three samples from the water to carry out tests and studies, which showed that it was not contaminated,” he explained. He said the newly established King Abdullah Zamzam Water Distribution Center in Makkah is equipped with advanced facilities and where bottling takes place in accordance with international standards.
“We apply modern methods for filling bottles after sterilization,” Nawab said.
He said the contamination of the water could have caused while redistributing the water in small bottles by individuals.
Fahd Turkistani, adviser to the Presidency for Meteorology and Environment, said the BBC report focused on bottled water supplied by individuals and not by the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs. The water supplied by the presidency undergoes close monitoring and ultraviolet rays are applied to kill harmful bacteria, he added.
Turkistani said the Zamzam water contamination could have caused by illegal workers who sell Zamzam water at Makkah gates as they use unsterilized containers. He said the Saudi government has prohibited such illegal sales of Zamzam water.
Meanwhile, a responsible source at the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs highlighted the measures taken for the protection of Zamzam water saying the water passes through stainless steel pipes to the cooling stations and then to the Grand Mosque.
He said the presidency has given utmost importance for the preservation and distribution of Zamzam water, adding that it is closely monitored around the clock.
According to the World Health Organization, the permitted arsenic rate in natural water is up to 10 microgram per liter. If the rate goes up then the water could be harmful to the kidney and liver and cause cancer. The rate of arsenic in Zamzam water is much less than the amount permitted by the WHO.
Talal Mahjoub, a Saudi, denounced the move to create suspicion about the quality of Zamzam water.
“My family and I have been drinking Zamzam for many years. None of us have suffered any disease as a result of drinking it. If the BBC report was true, Makkans would have suffered many diseases, including cancer, because most of them drink Zamzam.”
The Saudi Embassy in London also issued a statement affirming the purity of Zamzam in Makkah.
“Scientific tests conducted on samples taken from the original source have proved the Zamzam water is good for drinking,” it said, referring to tests conducted on the water at a French laboratory. It said the Kingdom does not export Zamzam water. The King Abdullah Zamzam water complex, which was established in Makkah last September at a cost of SR700 million, can supply 200,000 bottles daily.