What is 'raw' water—And is it actually good for you?

The idea of untreated, unfiltered water might sound good, especially given the rise of raw, organic, natural diets, but consumers should be wary.

According to a recent trend piece from the New York Times, raw water is "unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized" water collected from the surrounding or nearby environs, and it is gaining traction with the West Coast's tech set. One raw water company, Live Water, claims sterilized water can disrupt gut bacteria and potentially contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and chemicals. Or, as Live Water's founder Mukhande Singh, (given name Christopher Sanborn), put it to the New York Times: "toilet water with birth control drugs in them." Live Water instead delivers water straight from a natural spring in Oregon in reusable glass "gallon globes" for upwards of $33 a pop and $15 for refills. Other raw water companies, per the New York Times, either deliver customers water from  natural springs or give consumers the tools to collect it themselves from the atmosphere.

The idea of untreated, unfiltered water might sound good, especially given the rise of raw, organic, natural diets, but consumers should be wary. Raw water might literally be a crock of sh-t: As Jeff Nelken, a food safety consultant and coach, tells Women's Health, there's a huge potential for waste to seep into unfiltered water.

"I guess the term ‘raw water’ refers to water that’s in the environment that hasn’t been treated in any way, so we don’t even know what’s in that water," Nelken says. "If it’s accumulated, let’s say, from the land—a lot of times near farms, for example—you might have waste from the animals that they put into lakes and it soaks into the ground and then goes into the water. It’s possible to have any contaminants that come from the feces of the animals going directly into that raw water."


Along with the urine and feces from nearby farm animals, raw water might also contain the bacteria from dead animals whose bodies are decaying in the soil. It might contain lead, radiation, E.coli, Salmonella, or viruses—the point is that, without filtration or any kind of processing in a treatment plant, we can't know. That's a dangerous game to play with your body. The odds are overwhelming that, at some point, a person who imbibes raw water is going to get very sick.

"It’s almost like going to a casino: The casino always wins, eventually, it’s just a matter of time," Nelken says. "We need to look at the disadvantages."

And for the record, treated water is a good thing. It kills the pathogens and removes the contaminants that might otherwise find their way into our drinking sources. Conspiracy theorists have long viewed tap water additives like fluoride as government mind control agents (as explored in 2016 by Vice). In reality, fluoride helps keep teeth strong, and proper water treatment is something communities need to ensure they're not consuming toxins. For evidence of just how crucial that process is, please see the improperly treated, lead-laced Flint River water that engendered a federal state of emergency in Flint, Michigan in 2016.

Water-borne bacteria can be deadly, too. A 1976 outbreak of Legionnaire's Disease at a Philadelphia hotel killed dozens of people after they were exposed to a pneumonia-causing bacterium living in the building's air conditioning system. These are the kinds of contaminants we risk ingesting when we drink raw water, Nelken says: "It’s one thing to use raw water to flush toilets, I could see that, but I certainly wouldn’t want to use raw water to wash your produce or your vegetables or anything that you’re going to consume."

If you're concerned about what's working your way into your tap water, consider a Brita filter. But anyone who doesn't want Giardia or worse should consider untreated spring water off limits.


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