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Perrier begins to replenish supplies

Pure Perrier mineral water is going back on the market at the rate of6-million bottles a day as its makers rushed Thursday to replenish stocks wiped out by a health scare and global recall.

While Perrier's shares regained strength on the Paris stock exchange, its staff of 3,300 at the sacred mineral water spring near this southern French town was working at full capacity to replace the recalled 160-million bottles.

"We hope to turn a near catastrophe into a great success," said Perrier spokesman Jean-Pierre Roux. The decision to withdraw all suspect Perrier bottles was "the best demonstration of our credibility that we could have made."

Since Roman times, the bubbling spring in the flat, dry Mediterranean land between the cities of Nimes and Montpellier was known as a source of naturally effervescent water.

In an ultra-modern plant, the gas, which emanates from deep volcanic layers and percolates through an underground stream, is separated, filtered to remove impurities, then reinjected into the Perrier at a ratio of 3.5 parts gas to 1 part water.

When filters were not renewed, tiny traces of benzene built up, eventually creating levels that exceeded U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety norms.

Benzene is a naturally occurring solvent that is suspected of causing cancer.

The suspect bottles of Perrier were eventually withdrawn from markets worldwide.

Perrier, a spring blessed by the state since 1863, was bought by Gustave Leven from Britain's aristocratic Harmsworth family in 1948.

It was then on the brink of bankruptcy.

Perrier now not only taps the water but also makes the distinctive

pear-shaped green bottles and the caps and labels that go on them. Roux said these may be altered to give a "clear" sign that the water had been bottled after the recall.