Science, Now + Beyond

There’s a big reason why the new “raw water” craze is stupid and dangerous

2018 may just be the year of raw water.

I currently live in Colombia, a country that, with the exception of the major cities, does not have potable water. Generally, safe drinking water is easily obtained– my apartment has a filter installed in the sink, and every store sells 6-liter jugs of water.

 In more remote parts of the country, like the desert of La Guajira, I’ve had to bring my own jugs of water because the resource there is so scarce.

Living here has made me vigilant about what I’m putting into my body in ways I haven’t been before – questioning whether the food I’m served has been rinsed with clean water, making sure I don’t swallow while showering, and wiping plates completely dry before eating off of them. 

Because I think so much about my water intake here, I paused when I learned of a new health trend gaining popularity on the west coast of the United States: raw water.

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Yes, you read that correctly.

Raw water is water that companies claim is unfiltered, untreated, and comes directly from springs. One of the main producers of the product is the Oregon-based company Live Water – who boasts that their water is better than tap water, has probiotic health benefits, and stays fresh for, “one complete lunar cycle after delivery.” 

If this isn’t sounding fishy yet, let’s break it down further. 

The Live Water website claims that regular tap water is “sterilized,” removing good bacteria, and then polluted with harmful chemicals like fluoride and chloramine. Of course, the thought of unknown amounts of chemicals pumped into your drinking water might make you squirm, but before filling your water bottle in the local river it’s important to understand how U.S. water treatment works. 

Firstly, fluoride isn’t a chemical: it’s a naturally occurring mineral that exists in all water. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), additional fluoride is added to water to prevent tooth decay. In fact, water fluoridation has been so successful in strengthening teeth that it is considered one of the greatest public health accomplishments of the 20th century. Chloramine and chloride, on the other hand, are indeed chemicals, but their purpose is to disinfect water of dangerous germs such as salmonella and norovirus, and its use is well regulated.  Additionally, some water isn’t even treated with chloramine or chlorine, and, if you so choose, you can find out how much chloramine or chlorine is in your water by looking up your local utility’s Consumer Confidence Report. 

Live Water also flaunts the superiority of their water by advertising its “super high levels of natural silica.” Silica, or silicates, are another naturally occurring mineral. While they are reported to have such benefits as strengthening hair and bones, there is insufficient evidence to support these claims. 

Further, silicates in drinking water do have a maximum contaminant level, and who knows if Live Water’s “super high” levels exceed this limit or not. 

The kicker of Live Water’s attempt to market questionable water?

It’s not cheap: the company sells their 2.5-gallon jugs for $16.00/jug, with a minimum purchase of 4 jugs, a grand total of $64.00 per delivery. 

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At the end of the day, raw water doesn’t yet have enough evidence backing it up as a reliable source of water yet. 

In theory, the idea of raw, natural water is appealing, but I fear that people are jumping on the hype before considering their well-being on empirical evidence. At the bottom of each page of the Live Water website lies the warning: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Our services are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” 

It’s undoubtedly important to be critical of the government, however, we should be equally critical of companies that are, above all, trying to sell us something. Live Water might be trying to sell us a natural, as-close-to-mother-earth-as-possible lifestyle, but in doing so they might also be selling us Giardia.

Moreover, there are plenty of places in the U.S, and all over the world, that don’t have access to potable drinking water. Think Flint, Michigan; Newark, New Jersey Public Schools; or Jim Hogg County, Texas. If companies like Live Water are so concerned with the quality of water, you’d think that these communities should be their priority. 

What does the willingness of citizens to pay exorbitant prices for potentially harmful water while turning a blind eye to fellow citizens who can’t even drink cost-free from their own taps say about their nation?  

We usually think about water as being an issue of undeveloped countries, but it’s an issue the U.S. faces, one that intersects with class and race

It calls into question both our intelligence and our humanity.