Notes From Hairenik
March 12, 2007

Anyone who knows me realizes that I drink mass quantities of Jermuk, which is a lightly carbonated mineral water bottled in a town of the same name in southern Armenia. At one time I was averaging around 1 liter per day, although in the last couple of months I hardly drank any because I was out of the country. And in the last two weeks I purchased only four 1.5 liter bottles, a low count for my household.

But it seems my Jermuk drinking days are over, or at least suspended until further notice. The other day I received an official U.S. Embassy Yerevan Warden Message about the FDA finding high quantities of arsenic in the stuff—about 500 micrograms per liter. I figured this was some kind of warning to the Armenian government to get its act together about governmental corruption and ensuring free and fair elections, since effectively Jermuk bottling companies could now suffer from dangerously high profit loses on export sales as well as sales within Armenia, thereby hurting the economy to a small extent just by issuing one press release. Yet, an article posted on proved me wrong.

But according to FDA, testing of Jermuk products found that they contain between 500 and 600 micrograms of arsenic per liter. “FDA’s standard of quality bottled water allows no more than 10 micrograms per liter,” the agency said. It argued that extended exposure to the poisonous metal could lead to cancer and death, but added that so far there have been no recorded cases of illnesses caused by Jermuk.

The Armenian standards, set by the National Institute of Standards, allow for up to 700 micrograms of arsenic in one liter of mineral water. But the institute director, Yerem Chakhoyan, acknowledged that Jermuk should be regularly drunk only by individuals suffering some stomach and intestinal diseases.

Not good news. I really love the stuff, I think it has a great taste and it always cures an upset stomach, not to mention it’s generally good for digestion. Now the hope is that other competitive carbonated mineral waters bottled in Armenia, such as Arzni and Bjni, will be found to have little to no arsenic in them. Arzni is a bit cheaper and tastes just as nice, so here’s hoping that my absolute switch will prove to be a very wise choice. Otherwise I’ll have to find a way of carbonating filtered tap water.

Read the full article about the dangers of Jermuk here.

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Blogger Eso said...
The questions you have to be asking yourself, before staying with any brand are:

- Where are the competing brands bottled?

- Are they bottled in the same factory?

- Do they come from the same water sources?

- If not, how close is the proximity of the various water sources?

Generally if you find any parallels between the brands, then it's likely that all the brands have the same issue.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
the fda had a faulty test or wants to not allow armenian companies to enter the industy.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
I bought a bottle of Arzni the other day and compared the "anions" and "cations" with Jermuk Group's "medicinal water" product, which is sold everywhere, especially in restaurants, as an alternative to ordinary water.

Basically Arzni has much less magnesium and calcium than Jermuk in micrograms according to the information printed on the bottle labels. In some cases 1/4 of the minerals in a bottle of Jermuk can be found in Arzni. That mineral water is bottled in the vicinity of the town of the same name, in the Kotayk region, far away from Jermuk. But it hasn't been tested for arsenic levels as far as I know, so I can't say if it is any safer.

Still, it's worth the switch I suppose, although a recent quote from a USDA representative working in Armenia claims there's not much to worry about. In an article printed yesterday:
"You have to drink a lot of mineral water per day to really have any effect. You have to drink around 20 liters of water a day," [Sean] Carmody told RFE/RL. "It’s either a testing issue or a labeling issue," he added, demonstratively sipping Jermuk on the sidelines of a roundtable discussion on Armenia's national food safety strategy.

Blogger nazarian said...
The problem is that Jermuk is marketed as a mineral water but in reality it has never been recommended for constant use but as a medicine. If you are hooked on it, you may need to cut back a little. I think the least loaded mineral water is Bjni; it has never been known to possess any medicinal value.

Anonymous Narbey Derbekyan said...
saw this when searching armenians news bits on yahoo.


Blogger Christian Garbis said...
This is not a good situation--first Jermuk and now, possibly Arzni as Canadian Food Inspection Agency has affirmed, although whether it was indeed tested and how much arsenic was found was not revealed in the press release. They are probably just being cautious due to the Jermuk scare. Regardless, I read in another article that apparently all mineral water in Armenia contains some amount of arsenic. The thing is, no one is really fessing up to how much except Jermuk Group, which admits that the water it produces has about 700 micrograms per liter.
Still no word about Jermuk Group's main competitor, Bjni, and how much arsenic it contains--hopefully very little.

Anonymous Narbey Derbekyan said...
It's possible to remove arsenic from water (according to google search) but who knows how that would change Jermuk and Arzni.

Blogger Eso said...
It's hard for a company to recover after bad publicity. The company just needs to start using filters like ionic exchange to lower the arsenic levels.

Or they could check their surroundings if the water is meant to be inherently pure.

Things like agriculture and industry can pollute the water sources. Herbicides, fertilisers, production waste and run off, polluted air also may mess up water/snow because when it rains the arsenic will soak the ground, etc., but also natural run off from rock formations when the water levels drop can also be a cause.