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'Raw Water' Trend Raises Worries

Experts warn of potential health consequences


LEAH NASH © The New York Times/Redux

Unfiltered water can contain cholera, E. coli infections and parasites, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Raw water” is a Real Thing — one that has drawn enough interest to attract investors and get a recent profile in the New York Times — but some health experts are concerned about its safety and question claims of its benefits.

The term refers to natural spring water that is not filtered or treated in any way (typical bottled water, even expensive bottled spring water, is treated in some manner). Proponents claim the water has qualities not available in treated water, including extra minerals and probiotics (helpful bacteria). The water also avoids potential contaminants and additives in tap water, including fluoride — a common additive that helps fight tooth decay but can be hazardous at high levels.

It shows signs of turning into a big business, with some companies actively seeking investors. On the other hand, tech site Ars Technica refers to raw water as “ludicrously priced unfiltered water with random bacteria.”

“We're glad people are so interested in water quality and the value they're placing in safe water,” Vincent Hill, acting chief of the waterborne disease prevention branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Washington Post. “But I think it's also important for people to know where their water comes from, what's in it, how it's delivered and whether it’s safe to drink.”

"The whole reason we do not have a lot of the disease you see in third world countries is because of our water-filtration system," Jamin Brahmbhatt, M.D., of the Florida health care organization Orlando Health, told USA Today. "The things our forefathers died of — we don't see it, because our government is so strict about how our water is cleansed."

Those “things” include cholera, E. coli infections and parasites, the CDC notes.

The water can be expensive. Although some people collect untreated water on their own from springs, a 2.5-gallon bottle refill costs $14.99 at one San Francisco cooperative, the Times reports. So without care, the water might harm your pocketbook as well as your health.