Looking for a novel way to show off how
special sorry, health-conscious you are? You’re in luck because “raw water” is now on the shelves, promising to bring none of the safety of tap water at a much higher cost.
Some days, science journalism is all about stuff like finding out how the Universe started, trying to teach robots to love, or uncovering Aztec shrines nestled in the belly of volcanoes. Other days, it’s about telling people not to eat their own placenta. Today, sadly, it’s about discussing whether or not it’s a good idea to drink your water out of a stream like cave people, as a growing number of Americans peppered across the country (mostly West Coasters) are saying nay to the tap and yay to the raw — raw water, to be exact.
This ‘mildly sweet’, unfiltered, untreated water is $36.99 on a 2.5-gallon because it’s pumped straight out of a ‘natural source’. You know, unlike all other water out there, which is … produced at a factory in China? I don’t even know.
Those who sell it hold that all this virginal unprocessed-ness is super good for you. Oregon Trail tells me it’ll probably give you dysentery by day 28. We must still be a few turns short, because according to an article published in the New York Times last week, raw water is making a killing (hopefully not literally). Of course, primarily in Silicon Valley.
Adherents of what Trisha Kuhlmey, owner of San Diego water store Liquid Eden, dubbed the “water consciousness movement”, share in a distrust of tap water. Among their biggest gripes with this most foul of brews are added fluoride, chloramine, and the lead pipes that it’s forced through. Another point of worry is that the filtration systems currently employed in the US are the (very vaguely-termed) wrong ones, and remove beneficial minerals. Bottled water, and I’m paraphrasing here, has all its health-promoting bacteria, or “probiotics”, nuked out of it since it’s treated with ultraviolet light or ozone before filtering to remove algae.
Raw water, on the other hand, has none of these issues. It doesn’t flow through municipal pipes, doesn’t have anything added to it, isn’t filtered in any way. Straight out of Mother Nature’s tit. Surely then it’s good for you, right? I mean, this guy sounds like he knows what he’s talking about:
“Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” Mr. Singh, founder of raw water shipping company Live Water, told the New York Times. “Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.”
Unlike Mr. Singh, nature actually knows what she’s talking about. Mother Nature also doesn’t care. She wouldn’t budge a proton if some humans died a horrible death via parasites, pathogens, or toxins because they drank out of a river. It’s called natural selection and she eats that for breakfast.
We filter and treat drinking water because it’s dangerous not to. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists contaminated drinking water as one of the leading causes of deadly preventable health risks in the world. “Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” they explain, estimating that it causes some 502,000 diarrheal deaths around the world each year.
No matter how crystal-clear the spring, it can still carry nasty contaminants, according to Vince Hill, chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.
“There are many sources of water contamination, and some of those sources are naturally occurring,” Hill said in an interview with Live Science. “Spring water and mountain stream water may look pure, but it can be contaminated with things like bacteria and viruses, parasites and other contaminants that you can’t see.”
“We recommend filtering and disinfecting [untreated water] to make it safe,” he later told the Times.
The EPA enforces a very arduous purification process including filtration, sedimentation (letting impurities settle down) and disinfection on America’s public water providers. Its exact steps vary from town to town (since they get water from different sources), but all are designed to eradicate the 90 most common contaminants from water.
It’s so important to do it right that they’ll show up unannounced to take samples and check that everything is up to requirements. That’s why every time you turn the tap for a drink you don’t have to ask “hmm, will this refresh me or infect me with something horrible?”
Natural chemical contaminants include arsenic and radon, elements embedded in soils and rocks that really like to pass through to groundwater bodies without many indications. Both elements become poisonous in large enough doses. Parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium (two of the most common causes of waterborne diseases in the US) have no problem passing from animal feces into the water. Other tasty things you can get from drinking contaminated water are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, SARS, and cholera, which has the distinction of being “one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known.”
Most of these diseases spread through water contaminated with feces. And yes, wild animals will go number two near or even in the most pristine raw water stream out there. Nature doesn’t care.
Waterier than thou
In the end, it’s extremely infuriating to see people that have one of the most robust drinking water systems in the world go out and drink from streams just because some guy wants to sell water at $40 a bottle. It’s discouraging to see citizens in one of the world’s richest countries kick all that away and expose themselves to the same dangers children in Africa are forced to bear just to feel better than their peers.
It’s the same “I know better” fallacy that rears its ugly head whenever a soccer-mom says no to vaccines or some dude says the world is flat. It has the same reek of conspiracy-prone ignorance that points at planes and bellows “CHEMTRAILS”, it chimes the same tune of cognitive dissonance in “guns don’t kill people”.
And it’s monetized in the hands of people like Mr. Singh who, when asked why not use an osmosis filter — which literally filters water molecule by molecule — to clean his drink instead, replied with gems such as:
“You’re going to get 99% of the bad stuff out […] But now you have dead water.”
“Real water [should expire after a few months, and his water] stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery. If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realize that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.”
I can feel my chakras vibrating already.
Do you want to drink raw water? Trade places with one kid whose life inches on the brink because he’s only had raw his whole life and drink your fill.