Water purifiers ineffective in preventing waterborne diseases, revealed through RTI

Dr Arvind Shenoy, senior chemical and consumer product researcher, had a hunch that Hindustan Unilever was making exaggerated claims about its Pureit water purifier. His suspicions were confirmed by the NIV which has threatened to take legal action if the company does not correct the advertising

That the giant multinational company Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has no qualms about misleading people  to sell its product was exposed recently, thanks to the RTI Act. It has even been threatened with legal action for making tall claims that its water purifier 'Pureit' kills/removes one crore viruses in one litre of water.

The esteemed institution that has issued this warning to the company is the National Institute of Virology (NIV), which in its letter dated 2nd June has accused it of "twisting and misrepresenting facts".

The facts pertain to a study conducted by the NIV "to evaluate the performance of domestic water purification units with respect to contaminating enteric viruses." HUL has, it seems, exaggerated by about 100 times the efficacy (of its water purifier) as tested by the NIV. The video links to the company's advertisements are here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPJV7y3wm6I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkgsKf4dLUM

The letter written by Dr AC Mishra, director, NIV, on 2 June 2011 states: "It is brought to my attention that your company is advertising Pureit regularly on TV. The said advertisement is quoting explicitly NIV's report that the purifier kills one crore viruses in a litre of water. We have clearly reported in our paper that experiments were conducted using 0.67x105 Hepatitis E virus particles per litre of water. Hence, your advertisements are not based on facts. You are requested to refrain from twisting and misrepresenting the facts. Failing to take immediate corrective measures may force us to resort to legal action against your company."
 
Mumbai-based Dr Arvind Shenoy, a PhD in chemistry and a consumer product researcher, with 42 years of professional experience in consumer product testing, both chemical and microbiological, decided to invoke the RTI Act on this matter in October 2010. "It all began with their Rs1 crore safety challenge advertisement, in which the HUL proudly tom-tommed about a test report on eight domestic water purifiers by the NIV. According to HUL, the NIV report claimed that its Pureit water purifier, a gravity-fed water filtration device, was the only water purifier that "removed/killed more than one crore viruses from one litre of water (Ek Crore Virus Ek Litre Pani se Maarta Hai)," Dr Shenoy says.
 
He explains, "I felt an instant apprehension about HUL's advertising claims. Since NIV was a Government of India (GOI) institution, I sought information under the RTI Act, thrice in 2010. After five months of waiting (he got the information on 25 February 2011), I had all the information, which revealed what I had suspected all along! Indeed, HUL had misrepresented, twisted and blatantly lied to gullible consumers about the quality of the Pureit water purifier. The tone of the advertisements on HUL's Pureit now appears to be a calculated exercise in falsehood and deceit in order to coax as many consumers as possible to buy Pureit."

Strangely, NIV refused to take action against HUL, even after the RTI revelation. So, on 11 May 2011, Dr Shenoy wrote to Dr Vishwa Mohan Katoch, director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Delhi, informing him that "Unilever Limited also markets Pureit to Indonesia and Mexico, but, in these countries they don't make such tall claims of killing one crore viruses per litre, probably for the fear of the repercussions from their respective governments."

The RTI information revealed that HUL was making its water purifier appear 100 times more efficient than what was stated in the report. Dr Shenoy says, "the document procured under RTI makes it abundantly clear that the testing was done with only 0.67x10(5) Hepatitis E Virus (HEV) particles per litre of water and not one crore, that is 1x107 HEV particles per litre of water as claimed by HUL in its advertisements."

Asked whether the testing by NIV of the eight water purifier brands was sponsored,  V Gopalkrishna, scientist and public information officer at NIV, stated that "it was not a sponsored testing" and that "it was an NIV supported activity". However, Dr Shenoy who has a copy of the test report that was published by NIV researchers in the Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health, Vol 14, pages 1-7, 2009, suspects otherwise. This is because the brand Pureit has been mentioned in the published test report (4th sentence on page 889). Mentioning a brand in such an internationally reputed journal is a violation of the norms of the US EPA's international ethical and scientific protocol.
 
Dr Shenoy observes, "I noticed that, curiously, for reasons best known to NIV researchers, in their published test report study on eight water purifier units in the scientific journal, they have specifically mentioned Unit number eight as Pureit, a water purifier developed by Hindustan Lever Limited. This gives an impression that the study was conducted in NIV at the behest of the manufacturers of Hindustan Unilever. It is not ethical as per international research standards to mention the name of a brand and a company specifically; hence the suspicion."

According to information received through the RTI Act, NIV tested eight brands of water purifiers sold in India. The test report was written in the international journal by Vikram Verma and Vidya A Arankalle, both scientists at NIV. (Read the article, "Virological evaluation of domestic water purification devices commonly used in India emphasizes inadequate quality and need for virological standards", from the Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health.

The units tested were: Unit 1 - Zero B, Unit 2 - Eureka Aqua Flow, Unit 3 - Orpat, Unit 4 - Krystalle, Unit 5 - Eureka Aquasure on Tap, Unit 6 - Anjali B-Free, Unit 7 - Aqua Plus (hollow fibre membrane), and Unit 8 - Pureit (from Hindustan Unilever).

By the way, the conclusions of the report should open the eyes of people as to how ineffective the water purifiers in India are. It says, "These same samples showed free and total chlorine levels that were adequate to ensure proper elimination of bacterial contaminants, but were unable to remove pathogenic viruses. These reports clearly document a definite need for a separate, well-defined virological standard for drinking water as well as for the evaluation of water treatment plants and domestic water purifiers.

"The minimum standards established by USEPA were not designed for developing countries where the microbiological quality of public water supply may not be as good as in developed countries. India and other developing countries should formulate their own standards and ensure strict adherence by all those concerned. This will help both manufacturers and consumers to be quality conscious with respect to drinking water, a basic need for every population and the major source of a variety of infectious diseases taking heavy toll every year in all the under-developed and developing countries.

"Similar study needs to be extended to the water treatment plants/systems used in villages, small cities and the metros to truly understand the quality of water made available to the people. It would be worthwhile judging the performance of the domestic units in field, i.e. houses, with respect to water quality, adherence to the recommended maintenance of the units, as well as time period of usage. We would like to point out here that we have evaluated one unit of each type. The batch-to-batch or unit-to-unit variation was not evaluated. This is a limitation of this study and needs to be extended to several units from one batch as well as different batches.

"In conclusion, our study suggests that even with the limitation of the study pointed out above, the results indicate that six of eight units tested (one unit/type) do not confirm to USEPA standards and emphasises the need for a definite national policy for the evaluation of such devices by the regulatory authorities as well as at factory level. Such an exercise will ensure availability of quality-assured domestic water purification units to the community, thereby reducing the burden of water-borne infections. It is desirable to set up our own national virological standards as well as evaluation of the protocol developed by us in several laboratories followed by strict adherence to the method accepted and approved by the regulatory authorities."

The point here to note is that although the NIV in its letter dated 2nd June has threatened legal action if HUL does not "immediately" rectify the false information, it is nearly two months but the NIV has not yet served even a legal notice to the multinational company. Does that speak loudly of NIV's intentions in conducting the test in the first place? As for Dr Shenoy, he wants HUL to publicly apologise. He has sent HUL a legal notice on 25 July 2011.

(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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    COMMENTS

    N Kumar

    5 years ago

    When nothing is absolute in the country, the only option is BOIL your filtered water before consumption !

    This also applies to RO filtered water because many of us are not sure about the PORE SIZE of the bio-membrane, the heart of a RO filter.

    Or simply rely on boiled water, though concern still remains regarding chemical contents such as Arsenic, etc.

    It is wise to first test your water in a lab and then decide.

    N Kumar

    5 years ago

    When nothing is absolute in the country, the only option is BOIL your filtered water before consumption !

    This also applies to RO filtered water because many of us are not sure about the PORE SIZE of the bio-membrane, the heart of a RO filter.

    Or simply rely on boiled water, though concern still remains regarding chemical contents such as Arsenic, etc.

    It is wise to first test your water in a lab and then decide.

    Priyanka Singh

    5 years ago

    Would you have a medicine without knowing whats wrong with your health?
    Similarly, without knowing whats wrong with your water never buy a Water Purifier.

    It is important to know which is the RIGHT water purification technology for you. The right technology in your water purifier will help to make your water SAFE for drinking plus retain the essential natural minerals.

    Check WaterConsumer.org. Water Consumer is a portal which shares all information related to safe drinking water. It is a non-commercial portal - you can get a free recommendation for which is the right purification technology for you (basis the water type you get), compare various water purifiers etc.

    Anil

    9 years ago

    Thanks Dr Arvind Shenoy, PhD ,for stopping one more establishment(other then the political one) from fooling the Indians

    Samuel S Jason

    9 years ago

    Yes .It is same with Eureca forbes also.I have a 10 yr model and the agent wants me to buy new one. After many calls also they were not responding to renew the AMC I maintained for 10yrs.

    deepaksb

    9 years ago

    All MNCs sail in same boat.Eureka forbes is one of the worst.BIS (Bureau of Indian standards org),Medical Council Of India/indian medical Association-all are hand in gloves to maaaaake money and cheat un-aware common man.Two water purifiers(costing approx.Rs10,000) -BRAND NEW-STARTED LEAKING-from the day one.With very strong protest-I got my money REFUNDED.However several communications sent to Eureka Forbes remained-UN ANSWERED.Eureka Forbes has around 15 models of water purifiers.All of them are NOT tested and apprtoved by BIS.This is blatent way of certifying a product.Eureka Forbes conveniently advertises the models as BIS apprived - which are NOT tested and approved by BIS.One needs to investigate these issues and punish corrupt officials and organisations.

    Roopsingh

    9 years ago

    HUL a uk based multinational is no different then other multi nationals like coca cola and pepsi who are just engaged in exploiting third world countries since long time(now called developing countries),the ad which i saw most rudest and worst in rememberance are from coke and pepsi when akshay kumar does unbelievable stunts(all computer tricks),and the one i hate most and which shows empty headness of ad agencies is of mountain dew when salman khan opts to drink chilled mountain dew at himalya peak(any chilled water will freeze at himalaya)then how he can drink freezed water and though no one opts to drink water (instead one will drink Tea or Cofee or some enrgy drink),
    so finally i i have concluded that foreign multinationals think india as hunting ground of all waste products of western culture to be marketed in india without any fear of law enforcing agencies.(India me pais khilao or jo jaho karo koi puchne wala nahi hai,paidsa do or sari sarkar aapki jeb me).
    MERA BHARAT MAHAN (to be read Mahan in corruption)

    Aadarsh Iyer

    9 years ago

    I am not surprised by what HUL is doing. If you see the other advertisements of HUL, they have always been comparing the efficacy of their products with those of their competitors. They failed once when fena filed a case against them and had to withdraw their Wheel ad. HUL should refrain from making such false claims. If and when such a claim is made they should also show the products used for comparison. This also happens because an ordinary consumer can never test the efficacy of such products or the veracity of such claims. Only one in a million will have the ability to test and challenge the claim, other will just buy the product thinking that it is from a reputed company like HUL. HUL in my view should apologise publicly for having misled their consumers and compensate those who bought their product based on the claim.

    Ashok Kanchan

    9 years ago

    An eye opening findings. There is urgent need to check such advertisements. May be by creating independent Advertisement Authority of India.

    rajmohan menon

    9 years ago

    total failure from the advertisement council. Before approving the airing of ad they should have checked the 100% authenticity of the claimer(HUL). Growth should not be seen as an opportunity to cheat.

    Ganesh Krishnan

    9 years ago

    Very noble effort to educate the public on the misleading claims by multinational companies. Can the consumers who purchased Pureit after the ad was published come together and file a case of cheating against the company and claim compensation?

    REPLY

    arun

    In Reply to Ganesh Krishnan 9 years ago

    No consumers cannot. In India it is the birth right of big companies to cheat. There is a quote in Aesop's fable - petty criminals are hanged; big criminals are elected!

    arun adalja

    9 years ago

    very good multinational companies are doing false claim and when marketed abroad they do not make such claims as they know if something goes wrong then they have to pay huge penalty.

    P R Kumar

    9 years ago

    Dear Sir

    Its absolute truth & fact !! Majority of the people were mislead by the Ad. Kudos for your effort.


    P R Kumar

    Sanjay

    9 years ago

    Thanks
    Why such test reports are not made available on websites of such Test Labs in public domain?
    It will be good to see a ranking of Water purifiers to understand which is good or may be which is best among the worst...

    Gunalan

    9 years ago

    Congrats. Glad that Somebody is there to point out that such a reputed organisation making false claim and misrepresenting facts about their product. It is quite unfortunate that the people tend to believe since they have no other alternate. And surprised to note that despite the fact, the co.still giving the ad and NIV is not taking any action for misrepresenting the facts. Alas. God only should help poor people.

    Will PHFI become transparent and accountable under Narayana Murthy?

    The Infosys founder’s entry to PHFI only strengthens the dominance of Big Business on the board of the organisation. This organisation which decides on public health policy, remains non-transparent and unaccountable, despite enlargement of government representation on the board

    Big Business dominates the governing board of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). As many as 10 of the 31 members of the PHFI governing board represent business groups. They include powerful names such as Mukesh Ambani, Shiv Nadar, Purnendu Chatterjee, Uday Khemka, Harpal Singh and now NR Narayana Murthy. In addition, there are board members who represent entities that have roots in business organisations, such as Ashok Alexander of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Their fabulous wealth must have given them some special understanding of public health policy issues and qualified them to be on the board of an institution that will deal with such issues. But what does one say when the government ignores even obvious conflicts of interest, such as the presence on the PHFI board of Harpal Singh, whose Fortis Group is a private healthcare and medical education provider and has a direct interest in the shaping of the government's health policy.

    Babus don't stand for transparency

    After a recent recast of PHFI, there are as many as seven central government bureaucrats-serving or retired-on its governing board. They include some of the most powerful babus, including TKA Nair, principal secretary to the prime minister, and Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission.

    These 'public servants', however, have shown no interest in making this publicly-funded, public-policy-influencing organisation RTI-compliant and open to scrutiny of the Comptroller and Auditor General, statutory regulators or parliament and legislators. On the contrary, in March this year, Dr Ahluwalia, in his capacity as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, reinforced the culture of secrecy and unaccountability by declining a request by Satyanand Mishra, the chief central information commissioner, to bring all public-private partnerships (PPPs) under the RTI Act 2005.

    Thus, the organisation that NR Narayana Murthy, chairman emeritus of Infosys Ltd, now chairs, can function like a private club with none of the hassles of transparency and accountability, but large chunks of public-funding available to it.

    Figuring out Mr Murthy's motivation

    Will Mr Murthy end up lending his 'driven-by-values' reputation to a shadowy and non-transparent organisation?

    That question occurred to me partly because I have personal knowledge of Mr Murthy's financial support to the cause of greater transparency in public life through annual RTI Awards organised by Public Cause Research Foundation (PCRF), an NGO that is managed by Arvind Kejriwal, who is currently the main coordinator of the Jan Lokpal movement. (I have worked with PCRF for a year.)

    On 12th July, I sent an email to Mr Murthy, explaining the issues surrounding PHFI and underlining the contradiction between his public profile and his new job. I also urged him to use his good offices to do something to unravel the network of unaccountable, private interests behind PHFI, rather than lend his reputation to this deception.

    Murthy's reply was prompt, but intriguing. "I have just accepted the position and have not yet met the president of PHFI. Therefore, I cannot comment on the issues you have raised. Please raise specific questions and I will take them up with the authorities and request them to provide answers," he wrote back.

    That is curious, because many of the issues I had raised relate to PHFI's non-compliance with the RTI Act and non-disclosure of important information which is apparent from its website.

    Here are some key questions about PHFI.
    1. What statutory authority and public accountability does PHFI have to arrogate for itself the power to influence public health policy in India, either on its own or through membership of government committees?

    2. Why are details of PHFI's constitution and registration not in the public domain?

    3. How does PHFI propose to resolve conflict of interest situations arising out of the fact that Fortis Group, a private healthcare and medical education provider with direct interest in shaping public health policy, is represented on its board through Harpal Singh?

    4. Since judicial determination of corporate liability in the Bhopal gas tragedy has left a deep sense of injustice, what in PHFI's view should be done in terms of holding polluting industries responsible for the consequences of their action and inaction, and for protecting public health? Does it recommend a new and stricter law?

    5. What is PHFI's stand on the public health risks involved in expanding nuclear power generation? What would PHFI suggest in terms of policy?

    (This is the second part of a series that began on Monday. To read the first part click, "Will PHFI be any different under Narayana Murthy?" In the third part tomorrow, Kapil Bajaj writes about the answers he received from Mr Murthy in response to the questions raised above. Kapil Bajaj is a Delhi-based freelance journalist and blogger. He has worked for the Press Trust of India, Business Today, and other organizations. His current interests are democracy and public policy.) 

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    There’s a new twist in the story in the Nigerian scam emails; but don’t get sucked in

    It seems that a female diplomat has been caught by the FBI with a large sum of money that might actually belong to you!

    Nigerian scam messages have been doing the rounds since the time there have been spam emails. The standard email declares that the receiver will get a large sum of ill-gotten money and that he would have to part with some money to claim the full amount. Further, the receiver must give details of his bank account to the sender. It's a wholesale fraud with no chance of recovering the money one may spend, let alone gaining any money.

    In a new twist in these emails, the sender describes the case of a female diplomat caught by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with a large sum of money. The sender informs that the receiver is the rightful owner of the money and that the money originates from Nigeria. All that you need to do in order to gain ownership of the money, is to produce some Nigerian documentation that says the money is legal and that you are the owner; that is, an Award Ownership Certificate must be secured from the office of the senate president in Nigeria. But if one doesn't know how to go about it, he should contact Dr Ernest Ebi (on email: [email protected] ) in Nigeria. Again, this is another scam to get people to spend money, in the chase for a large amount of money that does not exist at all.

    Time and again, these scams surface through email, trying to trap the gullible and greedy, who are ever-willing to chase the money that is promised, even if it does not belong to them in the first place.

    The email concludes with the warning that if the money is not claimed within three days, it would be confiscated into a World Bank account and you could be prosecuted for money-laundering. This pushes the greedy person to act immediately, make contact, and lose money in the process.

    It is important that people do not reply to such messages, or give banking particulars in reply to these spam messages. Most certainly, people should not spend money to chase such ever-elusive fortune. Until Internet technology improves and can completely block communications from such scamsters, we must stay cautious and not try to contact them.

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    COMMENTS

    RNandakumar

    9 years ago

    Supdt. of Police, Cyber Crime Investigation Cell Central Bureau of Investigation, 5th Floor, Block No.3, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi - 3, Phone: 4362203, 4392424 : EMail: [email protected] : Web: http://cbi.nic.in/
    Those who do not want money could forward their messages to the above address to prevent unscruplous victimisation

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