Despite being a hub for technological advancement, California’s bay area is also notorious for absurd anti-science health trends such as the movement opposing vaccinations which, in 2014, lead to the most significant measles outbreak the state had seen in decades. Joining the absurdity of the “anti-vaxxers” is a new and equally ridiculous trend – “raw water”. That’s actually unfiltered, untreated, raw spring water, which, even when from the seemingly cleanest of sources, can spread diseases like cholera, E. coli, Hepatitis A or Giardia.
To add insult to potential injury, this unsterilized water, bottled and marketed by startups like Live Water, is priced at $36.99 per 2.5-gallon containers and $14.99 per refill at the co-op Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. The water is often out of stock and typically sees a price hike with every restock.
Photo: Live Water/Facebook
“It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouthfeel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile,” Kevin Freeman, a manager at Rainbow Grocery, told the New York Times. “Bottled water’s controversial. We’ve curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm.”
Live Water was founded by Mukhande Singh (formerly Christopher Sandborn), three years ago in Culver, Oregon, but has since moved to Los Angeles. Although pure water is obtainable via a reverse osmosis filter, Singh claims that pristine water is not the goal. “You’re going to get 99 percent of the bad stuff out,” he said. “But now you have dead water.”
Singh added that “real water” expires after a few months. “It stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery,” he said. “If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realize that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.”
As for public water, Singh believes that it is poisonous. “Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” he said. “Chloramine, and on top of that, they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.”
Of course, there are plenty of studies that show how fluoride is beneficial to dental health, but this evidence means nothing to people like Singh. He is hardly alone in his delusions, however, as the crusade against adding fluoride to municipal water began in 1950s and has been growing ever since. The once fringe movement has unfortunately gained a great deal of traction recently, much to the dismay of health professionals.
“Without water treatment, there’s acute and then chronic risks,” Dr. Hensrud, the director of the Healthy Living Program at the Mayo Clinic said. Some of these risks include E. coli bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be present in untreated water. “There’s evidence all over the world of this, and the reason we don’t have those conditions is because of our very efficient water treatment.”
Hensrud compared the “raw water” movement to the anti-vaccination movement for its rejection of established modern science and its risk to public health. The rejection of vaccines has lead to a resurgence of diseases once thought eradicated, and “raw” water could do the same. Water treatment in the US eliminated diseases such as cholera, which once killed many Americans, and still kills up to 143,000 people globally every year.
The idea that tap water is dangerous could potentially undermine support for public municipal water systems, and lead to citizens making poor health choices for themselves and their children. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan was a direct result of public funding shortfalls, a decision that has lead to long-term health consequences for residents. If the concept of “raw” water gains too much traction, Hensrud fears that there could be similar issues arising all across the country.
The World Health Organization estimates that contaminated water kills over 3.4 million people globally every year, making it the leading cause of death worldwide. 844 million people, according to WHO, lack access to clean water. This “raw” water trend among some of the wealthiest elite on the planet is an insult to those millions of people suffering from lack of access to treated water.