” Anybody here consume water, but desire you could pay more for it?” In January 2018, the “raw water” movement was doing the rounds on the United States TELEVISION funny circuit, and it was Stephen Colbert’s turn on The Late Show “Well, excellent news,” continued Colbert, “since the next big start-up fad in Silicon Valley is ‘raw water’ … water that’s un filtered, un dealt with and un sterilised. Wow, consuming that sounds un sane!”
This followed a New York Times article buffooning a brand-new trend in San Francisco’s tech heartland for bottles of untreated spring water sold by companies such as Live Water for $3699 These start-ups extolled the benefits of drinking “real water … within one lunar cycle of delivery”.
You might also like:
Nevertheless, not everyone was laughing. Some were taking notes. Drinking water is normally highly managed, and the market for buying and offering neglected water remains little and anecdotal. However the website Findaspring.com reveals that “raw water” has actually since become a global movement of individuals looking for out their own wild water sources. Eager users list and map thousands of natural wells and springs throughout the world for individuals to consume from.
While the website’s disclaimer advises individuals to check all spring water before consuming it, its explainer video Why Spring Water by website creator Daniel Vitalis makes bold claims such as “we’re biologically adjusted to [raw water] as an animal” and “we’re not any more adapted to improved WATER than we are to refined carbohydrates”.
You don’t need to dig very deep to discover the downsides, however. A user remark left directly below Vitalis’ video checks out: “Remember, some springs can be polluted with E-Coli, for instance. We used a get up of Millersburg OH for several years and then a barnyard was put in up high up on the hill … Three of us got really ill.”
Val Curtis, professor of hygiene and director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine, has severe concerns about the ‘raw water’ motion. “This seems to me a really backwards step,” she says. “We’ve gone to such excellent lengths in society to in fact solve the problem of the contamination of drinking water by purifying it and supplying it in good condition. And we have actually even improved it by putting chlorine and fluorine in it to eliminate all the bugs and improve your teeth … these arguments were won years and years ago.”
Curtis asks, probably rhetorically: “Do we really want to go back to the Stone Age?” But Live Water’s homepage(which plainly connects to Findaspring.com) suggests that is precisely the goal, claiming that human beings “have actually drank unprocessed spring water for 99%of our presence”.
BBC Capital approached both Live Water and Daniel Vitalis for an interview, but they were not available for remark. Vitalis nevertheless plainly practices what he preaches. His Instagram account(with over 29,000 followers) has plenty of searching and foraging images, and his online show WildFed champs the “emerging modern-day subsistence culture” and “foraging right here in our regional food-shed”. In his view, natural is therefore constantly best and going back to our ancestral roots is the desired goal.
While there is some science supporting the “paleo diet”, states Curtis, a line should be drawn at clean water. Our forefathers “also passed away in large rates from typhoid, cholera, giardia, diarrhoeal disease,” states Curtis. Life span for our genuine Palaeolithic forefathers was decidedly low When it comes to “probiotic” claims that “raw water” contains numerous of the great germs we need for gut health, Curtis argues that while it might do, it may also consist of all the bad ones too.
Vitalis’ video claim that “faucet water is contaminated with antibiotic substances … [and] chlorine and fluoride which we understand is neurotoxic” is likewise declined by Curtis. Fluoride and chlorine “are not understood to do any harm to us in the amount that you have in water,” she says. “There is absolutely no evidence that residues of drugs like prescription antibiotics do any damage to human health, even if they are detectable in small parts per million. It’s the same old thing– people don’t seem to get the idea that if something is present in extremely, extremely small quantities, it’s not unsafe!”
In 2018, Galen Zink moved from a tech job in Silicon Valley to pursue self-sufficiency and “nutritional self-optimisation” on a remote island in Southern Alaska. Despite understanding the concerns raised by Curtis, he drinks nearly specifically from his local stream. “It’s so common here,” states Zink, who thinks there are health benefits. “It’s got probiotic bacteria in there … Consuming raw water enhances microbiome health.” He’s also observed that “drinking raw water as your primary hydration for a couple of days yields visibly smoother skin”.
One thing both Zink and Curtis can agree on, however, is that pristine rural environments with sparse human habitation are the most likely to have safe white water sources. “I had to come to this insanely remote island to discover what truly feels like tidy air and water,” says Zink of Prince of Wales Island, Alaska Its population is just 3,000 spread across 2,230 square miles (5,776 km squared), with little in the way of agriculture, let alone industry. “If you’re anywhere near anything civilised, odds are surface area water will be polluted,” confesses Zink. “Attempting to cut corners and drink from springs you find online is probably not the ideal choice for most individuals. It’s all too easy to feel a benefit initially but then gradually poison yourself on herbicides.”
When I click “find a spring” on Findaspring.com, however, I find 56 located in England, where I’m based. A number of these remain in city areas, consisting of 5 in London. The only way to test the water quality, states Curtis, is to send “samples of water off for microbiological assays, at some cost … and you would require to sample it in various seasons to be sure”.
Gail Teitzel, editor of the journal Trends in Microbiology, says: “You ‘d need to test the water every time for microbial and chemical contaminants. Community and mineral water has actually currently been evaluated and shown safe … It resembles a raw egg– by preparing the egg, or by dealing with the water, you kill whatever pathogens may have remained in it.” When I recommend that numerous bottled mineral water brands are taken directly from natural springs, she states that “mineral water is regulated so that it does not include harmful microorganisms or chemicals”.
You ‘d need to test the water every time for microbial and chemical pollutants – Teitzel
Current research studies have actually discovered that90%of mineral water brand names and 83%of tap water samples across 12 nations consist of small particles of plastic called microplastics (the United States had the highest faucet water contamination rate, at 94%). While looking for out “raw water” appears severe, isn’t this a reaction to authentic concerns about modern-day water quality? “I fret that because of that, raw water lovers may be undervaluing the threat of untreated water,” says Teitzel. “Microplastic contamination of drinking water absolutely requires additional research study however we know that areas that lack dealt with drinking water have greater rates of baby death, in large part from water-borne diarrheal diseases.”
Eventually, if people wish to drink without treatment water, isn’t that their option in a free society? Here, Curtis draws parallels to the anti-vaccination movement “One of the reasons I don’t get ill extremely frequently is due to the fact that you don’t walk around drinking unclean water. But if you did and you got ill, you ‘d be a danger to me or your coworkers.” One example: the drinker gets E. coli, uses a common restroom or deals with food in the staff snack bar, therefore passes it on. “If you do [drink raw water], you have to take some duty that you may be a source of risk to others also, not simply yourself.”
Colbert’s act on The Late Program wryly concluded that “there might be a downside to drinking out of puddles”. That would appear extreme on people like Zink, who have looked for remote areas and based their options on regional knowledge. Or in Iceland, where 98%of faucet water stays chemically neglected glacial water. But Alaska and Iceland are actually the outliers. For urbanites, tap water stays the more secure, healthier option.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked choice of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.