Move over Soylent: Silicon Valley’s obsession du jour is raw water, or spring water that has not been filtered or treated in any way, according to a recent report in the New York Times.
It’s apparently flying off the shelves in San Francisco. But is it beneficial or safe? Here’s everything you need to know about raw water:
1. WTF is raw water?
Unfiltered, untreated spring water, packaged in glass bottles.
A few companies “produce” and sell it, including: Live Water in Oregon, Liquid Eden in San Diego, and Tourmaline Spring in Maine. In general, it’s gathered at running springs and bottled at nearby facilities. Live Water says they test each batch for bacteria before it goes to market and that each bottle has a shelf life of “one lunar cycle.”
Proponents believe it’s better than tap water because it doesn’t contain fluoride and chlorine, and that it’s better than traditional bottled water because minerals aren’t filtered out or added to it during processing. They also criticize bottled water for being treated with ozone gas.
2. Should I drink it?
3. Why not?
Bacteria and disease. Untreated water can contain cholera, Hepatitis A, E. coli, carcinogenic compounds, metals, and parasites like Giardia, which cause diarrhea, according to the CDC.
Groundwater wells — the ultimate in off-the-grid water that roughly 15 million households in the US rely on — also need to be routinely tested for safety. Chemicals like arsenic, metals like uranium, or contaminants from agricultural activities like nitrates can leach into the groundwater that supplies both wells and springs. Even rainwater — which is a great for your garden — is less safe for drinking unless it’s been treated, the CDC says. Animal feces, chemicals in air pollution or in roofing materials and gutters, and insect larvae can all swim around in rain barrels.
Live Water markets its product as “naturally probiotic.” At the bottom of its website, a disclosure reads:
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Our services are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult your health care provider before making a decision to switch your drinking water source.
4. But is that really any worse than bottled or tap water?
Yep, it’s worse. Though exceptions exist, overall “we have an incredibly safe and reliable water supply” in the United States, David Jones, professor of history of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Washington Post. “In some respects the fact that people are worried filtration is removing necessary minerals is really an extreme case of one of these First World problems.”
The FDA and individual states set guidelines for bottled water processing. Inspectors visit processing and bottling plants to test the water for contaminants. According to the Times, only Tourmaline Spring has received express permission from the state to produce and bottle its water.
5. Okay, but at the very least it’s probably cheaper than treated bottled water?
Since the NYT published its story, the price of one brand of raw water has risen from $37 per gallon to more than $60.