The people risking their health for the "raw water" trend

The people risking their health for the "raw water" trend

Home to Apple, Google and Facebook, California’s Silicon Valley has undoubtedly given rise to some incredible ideas and innovations. But this area, so renowned for its open-mindedness, has also given rise to a whole lot of nonsense (an app that only sends the word "Yo", anyone?) Now, the techy hipsters have found a new craze to jump on and - you guessed it - it’s one that fits firmly into the latter category: bottles of unfiltered “raw” water. And at up to $15 a gallon, they're more expensive than petrol. 

Isn’t all water raw, I hear you ask? Isn’t that why we’re told to drink so much of it? Well, actually, the water you drink on a day-to-day basis is filtered to remove any nasties and has fluoride added to it to prevent dental decay. This stuff, on the contrary, is drawn straight from the ground and has everything left in it, whether that’s all of the goodies and natural minerals, or traces of animal droppings and E.coli. So what’s inspiring this new trend - and just how safe is it?

The raw water movement isn’t exactly anything new. But with a fresh band of followers - ones that are, let’s be honest, a bit cooler than the hippy types it’s traditionally been associated with - it’s now gaining a rapid following, with Kevin Freeman, a shift manager at Rainbow Grocery Store, telling the New York Times that it’s bucking shopping trends: “Bottled water’s controversial. We’ve curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm.”

With the millennial generation arguably more health conscious than any before it, it seems that not a day goes by without the emergence of a new fad that promises to improve wellbeing - and as green juices and vitamin water go to show, this also extends to the way that people consume beverages. Those who support “raw water” say spring water can cure everything from anxiety, weight gain and fatigue, owing to its naturally occurring bacteria, which can be lost during the filtration process.

Water being poured into a glass Credit: Pexels

In fact, it’s the over-processing of standard tap water which many proponents of the raw water movement take issue with, with some also saving some harsh words for those of us willing to drink it: “Highly processed, chlorinated, fluoridated, acidified/alkalized, ozonated, UV irradiated, reverse osmosis treated, dead water makes sense when your population is as stacked and packed as battery-reared hens” said Daniel Vitalis, host of a podcast called ReWild Yourself and one of the early adopters of the practice of drinking unprocessed water. Ouch.

Those in favour of taking their water au naturel also say that it even tastes better: “it has a richer mouth feel, a cleaner flavour, and is distinctly more hydrating”, Vitalis claimed. This may come as a surprise considering it's a drink that literally turns green if you leave it sitting around in the warm for too long, and California never gets warm, right? Don’t worry if you don’t feel quite like drinking it though, you could always use it for a cheeky little raw water enema and bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "dirty water".

So is good old tap water actually damaging your health? Admittedly, both the water supply and sewage disposal processes in the US are less than perfect, with an infrastructure that needs replacing and modernising (including the use of up to 10 million lead pipes across the country). But given that it was the introduction of filtered water systems in the country that curtailed water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid in the first place, something that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has called “one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century”, it's hard to see how reverting to no treatment is a good idea.

The uncomfortable truth is that these diseases still have the potential to exist in modern America; just because history forgot them, it doesn't mean time has cured them. Among the bugs lurking in untreated water are vibrio cholerae, which can cause cholera and cryptosporidium, a parasite that will burrow into the intestines of an infected person, causing them - at best - to spend an awful lot of time on the toilet. Add in the risk of hepatitis A, giardiasis and E.coli, all of which can be spread by water and all of which there are already numerous cases of in the US each year, and the health risk is clear.

And those from countries where these diseases are still commonplace aren’t too impressed, either.

While it is also true - as many raw water fans claim - that tap water contains a host of other stuff, including medications and cosmetic products, it is believed that these do not occur in a high enough quantity to pose any real danger to health. “At this point, there's really no evidence of pharmaceutical and personal care products in the water harming people”, found a Harvard University study into drugs in the water system.

So, promoting wellness by asking people to drink something that is potentially at risk of being contaminated by E.coli, cholera-causing parasites and Hep A? To be honest, given that we live in a world where, according to the World Health Organization, over two billion people lack access to clean water and where dirty drinking water is responsible for over three million deaths every year, paying extortionate amounts for the privilege of potentially exposing yourself to these illnesses seems a bit gross in itself. So, Silicon Valley, how about you stick to techy-stuff, and leave the health stuff to the professionals?