Depending on your age, you might recall that it wasn’t too long ago people were enraged over the idea of bottled water. Paying for something that flowed freely from the tap was ludicrous!
But we’re nearly two decades into the 21st century and bottled water is as normal as colored TV. Beyond convenience, we recognize the subtle differences between premium water and the water you bathe in.
The past two decades have seen rapid growth and development within the water industry. In addition to your regular, plain old drinking water, there’s sparkling water, infused water, and now raw water.
Who knew H20 could be served up in so many ways? We’re all familiar with the term “tap water” (it’s the stuff that rained down upon you during your shower this morning) and I’m sure you’ve heard of sparkling water. And now companies are starting to “infuse” their water with certain minerals and elements. But you may not be as familiar with the latest form of water: raw water.
If you’ve spent any time hiking or camping, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced raw water to a certain extent.
Four years ago I had the opportunity to climb Mount Rainier in Washington. The scenery was breathtaking and the experience was incredible. Half way through our first day I ran out of water. But that didn’t seem like a big deal, there were streams of crystal clear water running down from the glacier. Once both of my bottles had been emptied, I simply dipped one into the crisp, ice cold water running down the mountain.
After taking my first big drink, a friend mentioned in passing that the water from the glacial stream might not agree with my stomach. And within just a couple hours I discovered what he meant: there was no doubt that my stomach did not agree with this mountain water.
Little did I know that I was partaking in an up and coming trend: raw water.
What is raw water?
If you’ve spent any time around Silicon Valley lately, you’ve probably heard of this latest health trend: raw water.
But if you’re like those of us outside of the tech capital, you may not be as familiar with it. Advocates of this new trend prefer to call it “live water”. The term “raw” can carry negative connotations such as raw meat or raw sewage.
To provide a very simple definition: raw, or live water is unfiltered, untreated spring water. Advocates of raw water love that it is free of fluoride and chemicals, such as chlorine used in most water treatment.
Like taking a sip from the stream, live water maintains the good bacteria and natural minerals that remain in the untreated water. Companies such as Live Water in Oregon, Liquid Eden in San Diego, and Tourmaline Spring in Maine have begun to produce, bottle, and sell this untreated water. Live Water of Oregon promotes their water as “Naturally probiotic” and “Perfected by nature.”
Until 2017, Live Water had a small operation. Live Water’s founder, Mukhande Singh, started selling spring water from Opal Springs in Culver, Oregon, three years ago. Singh admits that Live Water’s goal is not pure water obtained through reverse osmosis. “You’re going to get 99 percent of the bad stuff out,” he said. “But now you have dead water.”
According to Singh, “real water” should expire after a few months. “It stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery,” he said. “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.”
Water from a public treatment facility is poisoned according to Singh. “Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” he said. “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.”
Before it goes to market, each batch of Live Water is tested for bacteria as part of their standard production process.
Why raw vs. treated water?
Advocates criticize bottled water for being treated with ozone gas. They also believe it’s better than tap water because none of the natural minerals have been removed and doesn’t contain fluoride and chlorine.
But as David Jones, professor of history of medicine at Harvard Medical School, pointed out in an interview with the Washington Post, “we have an incredibly safe and reliable water supply” in the United States.“In some respects the fact that people are worried filtration is removing necessary minerals is really an extreme case of one of these First World problems.”
The FDA and individual states set guidelines for bottled water processing. Inspectors visit processing and bottling plants to test the water for contaminants. According to the Times, only Tourmaline Spring has received express permission from the state to produce and bottle its water.
Is raw water safe?
Like any well informed consumer, you’re left with one burning question: is raw water safe to drink?
I would never try and give health or nutritional advice. Like Tim Ferriss often says, “I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on the internet.” However you consume your water is a personal choice you have to make for yourself.
But many health professionals see this new trend in water as dangerous. Dr. Donald Hensrud, the director of the Healthy Living Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota is disturbed by Singh’s belief that traditionally treated water is poisoned. What he sees as safety protocols, raw water advocates see as dangers.
“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” Dr. Hensrud said. By consuming untreated water you could run the risks such as E. coli bacteria, viruses, parasites and carcinogenic compounds that can be present in untreated water. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”
The rules set by the Food and Drug Administration does not specify how water be treated but sets acceptable amounts of chemicals and bacteria at a low level.
Tourmaline Spring was able to get an exemption from the State of Maine in 2009 to sell its untreated water. “The natural food industry has been in the dark ages when it comes to water,” he said Seth Pruzansky, the chief executive of Tourmaline Spring. “Now there is a renaissance.”
As with any polarizing topics, there are strong convictions on both sides.
Raw Water advocate, Vanessa Kuemmerle of Emeryville, California, who does landscape design for large tech companies claims benefits of clearer skin and the need to drink less water. “My skin’s plumper,” she said. “And I feel like I’m getting better nutrition from the food I eat.”
“They’re health-conscious people that understand the bigger picture of what’s going on,” she said. “Fluoride? It’s a deathly toxic chemical,” she says.
Kuemmerle isn’t alone in her concern about water fluoridation. “Due to its potential health consequences, some vocal opponents have called for an end to water fluoridation.” But Vincent Casey, a senior water sanitation and hygiene manager at clean water nonprofit WaterAid, assures that the fluoride levels found in drinking water are not harmful even though it is hazardous at high concentrations.
According to David Jones, professor of history of medicine at Harvard Medical School, “we have an incredibly safe and reliable water supply.” There shouldn’t be a concern over the water treatment processing in the U.S.
But incidents like the water contamination in Flint, Michigan remind us that the water system in the U.S. isn’t perfect. Aging pipes and infrastructure issues have lead to episodes of water contamination.
Alarming as these tragedies may be, Kellogg Schwab, a professor of water and public health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health points out that modern water treatment has greatly improved public health over the past century. Water-borne illnesses in the U.S. such as cholera and typhoid fever have plummeted almost to zero since filtration, chlorination, and sanitation practices have been implemented.
“It was truly instrumental in improving public health in the United States,” Schwab says. “Having a central treatment process of our drinking water and then distributing it out to the individual homes and businesses is a tremendous asset that we, as a country, take for granted.”
Still want to try raw water?
So, maybe you’re like Vanessa, the landscape designer from California, and want to avoid water with fluoride and enjoy the benefits of natural minerals.
Even experts admit raw water contains beneficial minerals. But those same experts claim that these minerals can be obtained from a healthy diet.
But as long as you’re not filling up your canteen directly downstream from a bear relieving itself, you should be okay, right?
Experts say you should be most concerned about the things in the water that you can’t see such as the parasites left in the water from animal feces. You should also consider whether there has been groundwater contamination from naturally occurring elements such as arsenic, radon or uranium, or from pesticides and other chemicals.
According to Michelle Francl, who chairs the chemistry department at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, the risks far outweigh the reward.
“Water pulled from a spring or water that comes out of the tap — the water molecules are identical,” she said. “So the only difference is what else is in there and some of those things might be innocuous like the minerals, some of them might be not so innocuous — things like Giardia and bacteria have been found in springs.”
“The lack of clean water kills hundreds of thousands of children a year,” said Francl. “So this notion of raw water is crazy.”
The water treatment processes in the U.S. isn’t perfect. And the alternative, unfiltered, raw or live water may provide benefits such as natural minerals not found in our traditionally treated water or have the floride that some may want to avoid. Drinking untreated water is a matter of asking yourself if you’re willing to accept the risks to receive the benefits.
If you have tried “raw” or “live” water, I would love to hear your experience. Have you noticed a difference? Will you continue to drink raw water?