Updated March 9, 2020 to include Vice Article
Eric Roy, Ph.D.
Last week, the New York Times wrote an article about about a new craze called "Raw Water" or "Live Water" where people are buying untreated water that has been collected from a spring, and sold for high prices (often more than $30 per bottle). Normally with this type of rubbish, we take the position of "If people are dumb enough to fall for this... they deserve to lose their money," but this is different because there is a real risk of harm to children and other unwilling participants. We've been getting asked a lot of questions about this article (and others like it), so we'll use this article to answer some of the frequently asked questions. To be clear, the focus of this article is on raw/living water portion of the article, not the company that makes a device that pulls moisture from the atmosphere.
What Are People Referring To When They Talk About Raw Or "Living" Untreated Water?
Simply put, this movement refers to raw water as water collected directly from a spring or other natural source and sold to people without the water being disinfected or otherwise treated. The "living" aspect of it refers to the algae and bacteria that are found in the untreated water. No matter what anyone tells you... water is NOT alive.
What Are Benefits Of Drinking Raw Water?
There are no scientifically documented benefits of drinking raw water. Proponents report "feeling x,y,z," which is another way of saying "placebo effect."
Why Is Drinking Raw Water Such A Terrible Idea?
Raw water can contain bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other things that can make you extremely sick. From mild stomach problems, to Giardia, and even sometimes death, there is no way to control biological contamination in raw water. Even if you have the unfounded belief that spring water is sterile (it's not), contamination can come from the bottler's hands, bottle, or anything that comes in contact with the water or container. Aside from the dangerous health impacts, raw water is extremely expensive. One company out of California charges $16 for a 2.5 gallons container of raw water.
Why Does Raw Water Turn Green?
In non-disinfected waters... light + nutrients = algae growth. Spring water is often contaminated with nitrates & phosphates from human activities, so when that water is exposed to light, the algae are able to undergo photosynthesis and grow. That's why the water turns green... you're essentially setting up a terrarium in your bottle.
This is bad, because an algae bloom is providing a food source for potentially harmful bacteria to thrive.
Is Raw Water Free Of Chemical Contaminants?
No. Even seemingly pristine springs in remote areas can be contaminated by a variety of chemicals. This is because springs are fed by shallow groundwater, which is very susceptible to contamination from the surrounding areas. There are various websites that highlight areas where individuals have collected water from springs. Some of the springs are near to municipal source water, which knowingly must be treated and tested before being distributed to residents. Some raw water springs are near busy highways where petrochemicals runoff into surrounding groundwater.
What's Wrong With The New York Times Article On Drinking Raw Water?
The focus of this article (over 90% of the content) was dedicated to the stories of the founders of the companies who stand to profit and supporters of the movement, not scientists or medical experts. The only scientist interviewed was quoted in two short paragraphs near the end of the article. This type of coverage gives the article the feeling of a supportive "puff piece" if you only take a cursory glance at it.
More Questions About Untreated Water?
We'll be updating as questions continue to come in. If you have one, please send it