Medicine Pseudoscience Science Skepticism/critical thinking

Got diarrhea? The latest trend in fashionable nonsense is “raw water”

In pseudoscience, appeals to nature are everywhere. It’s not surprising, then, that there is profit to be made selling “raw” (i.e., untreated) water at very high prices for its nonexistent health benefits, those benefits all claimed to be due to the “naturalness” of the water. I can’t help but note that cholera, Giardia, amoebic dysentery, and a wide variety of waterborne illnesses prevented by modern water treatment techniques are all very, very “natural.”

As an old year fades into its final days and a new year approaches, I always wonder what new quackery will make an appearance in the new year. I know, of course, that all the old quackeries, cancer quackery, antivaccine pseudoscience, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology, and the huge number of other variations on self-deception will still be there. I also know that, when it comes to pseudoscience, there is rarely anything truly new under the sun, but I do like to contemplate what previously neglected bit of nonsense will come to prominence in the new year. So, while I’m cleaning up loose ends from last year, I can’t resist taking on one more story that appeared right as 2017 nearly over, provoking more stories that carried over into the first week of the new year. It could well be that this is the new woo for 2018.

So what am I talking about? Basically, it’s woo that’s a variant of many forms of pseudoscience based on the fallacy of an appeal to nature (i.e., that if it’s “natural” it must be better, safer, and healthier, and that many of humanity’s health most intractable health issues are due to the products of modernity, such as industry and pesky public health measures that protect against disease, such as vaccines, pure water, and pasteurization), but it’s also yet another variety of a common form of nonsense that I like to refer to as water woo. Over the years, I’ve written about alkaline water, Masaru Emoto’s water woo, and Kangan water. And of course I’ve also written extensively about the pseudoscience and conspiracy theories demonizing water fluoridation. It’s not for nothing that I like to make frequent Dr. Strangelove references.

Think of this particular form of fashionable nonsense as being the ultimate in water woo. Basically, the idea is that any treatment of water is bad, that you must drink the water untreated and unfiltered from the source, whatever that “natural” source might be:

At Rainbow Grocery, a cooperative in this city’s Mission District, one brand of water is so popular that it’s often out of stock. But one recent evening, there was a glittering rack of it: glass orbs containing 2.5 gallons of what is billed as “raw water” — unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water, $36.99 each and $14.99 per refill, bottled and marketed by a small company called Live Water.

“It has a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavor profile,” said Kevin Freeman, a shift manager at the store. “Bottled water’s controversial. We’ve curtailed our water selection. But this is totally outside that whole realm.”

Here on the West Coast and in other pockets around the country, many people are looking to get off the water grid.

Start-ups like Live Water in Oregon and Tourmaline Spring in Maine have emerged in the last few years to deliver untreated water on demand. An Arizona company, Zero Mass Water, which installs systems allowing people to collect water directly from the atmosphere around their homes, began taking orders in November from across the United States. It has raised $24 million in venture capital.

Reading about this new craze, I couldn’t help but think of two things. My first thought was: Damn, is that water expensive at $14.80 a gallon for the first “orb” and $6.00 a gallon for a refill! Yes, I know that bottled water can be more expensive on a per-gallon basis than a refill of Live Water, depending upon where you buy it (e.g., a sports stadium or concert hall), but this is still some expensive water. My second thought was that this reminded me very much of “raw milk.” As regular readers probably know, the same sorts of arguments are used for raw milk, namely that the usual treatment of milk used to decrease the risk of milk-borne infections to nearly zero (Pasteurization) somehow robs the milk of its taste, nutrition, and “vitality.” Whether raw milk “tastes better” or not, I do not know, never having tried it, but I do know that drinking raw milk increases the risk of potentially serious food-borne illness, as has been extensively documented. Personally, I always wondered if these same people also eat uncooked pork and chicken.

Let’s leave aside the issue of fluoridation and concentrate just on the claims for “raw water” for a moment. Fluoridation is a subset of “contamination” fear that we’ve written about extensively, particularly how fluoridation as practiced today is both safe and effective as a public health means to decrease the risk of dental caries but has been the subject of conspiracy theories at least since the time of Dr. Strangelove over 50 years ago. Let’s see what sort of health claims are made for raw water:

What adherents share is a wariness of tap water, particularly the fluoride added to it and the lead pipes that some of it passes through. They contend that the wrong kind of filtration removes beneficial minerals. Even traditional bottled spring water is treated with ultraviolet light or ozone gas and passed through filters to remove algae. That, they say, kills healthful bacteria — “probiotics” in raw-water parlance.

Yes, when water is improperly treated, the lead pipes still found in some older cities can lead to the leeching of lead into the water. Flint, a city in my own state, made national headlines for that very problem less than two years ago, and the problem still hasn’t been resolved. Of course, what the NYT article lists as health claims for this water are a bit less…extravagant…than what the actual sellers of this water claim. For instance, I wandered over to the Live Water website, and one of the first claims that greeted me was this:

The earth constantly offers the purest substance on the planet as spring water. We celebrate this ancient life source that humanity flourished from, since the beginning of our existance. We trust it’s perfect just the way it is.

“We trust it’s perfect just the way it is” basically because it’s “natural.” Also notice the distinct tinge of primitive vitalism in the claims made for this water, which is portrayed as an “ancient life source.” That vitalism is made even more explicit in multiple Instagram posts like this one:

“Our earth provides us this ancient source of #medicine in a complex cycle, far greater than anything we can ever fully comprehend”? This sounds more like magic and mysticism than anything scientific, as does this:

Also, you don’t need to refrigerate it, just to keep it cool and consume it within one lunar cycle:

Common question- Why don’t we offer 5 gallon glass jugs anymore? 🧐 After a handful of customers reported heavy and hard to handle 5 gallon jugs busting in kitchens, switching to 2.5 gallon glass jugs was the only safe solution🚰 Our #custom #leadfree #floweroflife jugs just happen to be easier to maneuver and stackable as well ⏳ Common question- Why do we refrigerate our #livespringwater from the moment it goes into glass till it’s delivered? 🤔 Since our water isn’t sterilized like all other spring water companies, the naturally occurring probiotic microbes in our water, would go green in hot storage conditions🍵 Common question- Does the water need to get refrigerated after delivery? ❄️ Most homes don’t reach the 110 degrees Fahrenheit most trucks and warehouses do in summer. 🔥 Store your #livewater in a cool dark space and enjoy it within one lunar cycle for super freshness ⛈

A post shared by Līve Water (@livespringwater) on

Then there’s the sorts of things Mukhande Singh, founder of Live Water, says, as in this quote from the NYT article:

Pure water can be obtained by using a reverse osmosis filter, the gold standard of home water treatment, but for Mr. Singh, the goal is not pristine water, per se. “You’re going to get 99 percent of the bad stuff out,” he said. “But now you have dead water.”

He said “real water” should expire after a few months. His does. “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.”

See what I mean? To people like Singh, if you treat the water you’re “killing” it. You’re robbing it of its “vital essence.” Of course, I don’t want my water to turn green; that rather suggests to me that there are too many organisms in it.

I will admit that the bottles are quite pretty, although I could do without photos of Singh that look like this:

A post shared by Līve Water (@livespringwater) on

Note the flowing locks, the levitating nakedness, the concentrated woo. At least he kept most of his clothes on for the photo in the NYT article.

Next up:

Shocking but true– All other filtered and even bottled spring waters are sterilized with UV light, ozone gas, and a sub micron filter. This is similar to how most juice and dairy products are pasteurized for shelf stability. Unfortunately this sterilization destroys beneficial sources of minerals and probiotics.

I can’t help but notice a dig at a potential competitor, as the first link goes to a page on the Mountain Valley Spring Water Company website discussing how its water complies with FDA regulations for filtering and purification. The second link goes to a page on David Williams’ website that claims that chlorinated drinking water is “toxic” to gut bacteria, as are “sterilized” (i.e., pasteurized) foods and a wide variety of other “unnatural” things, including vaccinations. I also note that “Dr.” David Williams is not a physician. He is a chiropractor with “multiple bachelor’s degrees, a Doctor of Chiropractic from Texas Chiropractic College, and research projects at the University of Houston, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Rice University.” There’s not a lot about vaccines on his website, but he does clearly believe that vaccines somehow “damage” the gut bacteria, with detrimental health consequences to infants and children. He also thinks that you should not get the flu shot every year, claiming:

Vaccines deliver either live or dead viruses directly into your body tissue, short-circuiting your body’s normal front-line immune defense system in your respiratory passageways and mucous membrane linings. If your immune system is weak or out of balance when the virus is introduced this way, you could have serious health consequences.

Also, there are controversial additives that have been used for years in seasonal flu shots. The most well known is thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that has been associated with brain and immune system dysfunction. The majority of flu shots each contain 25 mcg of this toxin.

Yes, Dr. Williams is not only a chiroquack, but he is antivaccine, claiming that “about the only thing flu vaccines are truly good for is lining the pockets of bio-pharmaceutical companies.” Let’s just put it this way. If Live Water thinks Mr. Williams is a good source of medical information about anything, it makes me question its other claims, and there are quite a few.

One example is this:

Microbes outnumber human cells in the body 10 fold. There are more nerve endings in our bellies than in our brains and there’s a constant battle between good and bad bacteria. The micro biome of our gut produces about 95% of the serotonin and 50% of the dopamine in our brains. Anxiety, weight gain, fatigue, and countless other ailments are linked to an imbalance of proper gut bacteria. Living spring water is the key to unlocking a perfect micro-biome balance.

The probiotics listed here are exclusive to our unsterilized water. There could be countless other benificial microbes present, scientists just haven’t discovered yet. They are imperative for optimal physical and mental health. Without these probiotics we’re not able to fully assimilate all the nutrients in our food. Beneficial bacteria are also ​proven​ to have abilities to transform harmful bacteria. Here is a published medical report proving raw spring water has vast healing abilities.

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a link to Pinterest showing all sorts of microbiome memes maintained by the company to persuade me. As for the report, I was struck at one result not reported that is generally considered critical to determining if water is pure: The level of coliform bacteria (E. coli, and other bacteria commonly found in feces, certain strains of which can cause disease.) As for the rest, Live Water reports levels of bacteria ranging from 1,310 CFU/mL for Pseudomonas putida to 11,640 CFU/mL for Pseudomonas oleovorans. (CFU=colony forming unit, which is a measure of the number of viable bacteria per volume of water.) This struck me as rather high, and indeed the maximal bacterial level for potable drinking water recommended by the regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and World Health Organization is 50,000 CFU/100 mL or 500 CFU/mL. Granted, these bacteria are generally nonpathogenic, but one has to wonder how careful Live Water is with regards to preventing fecal coliforms to creep in during the bottling process. Also, as the WHO points out, bacterial counts can increase even at 5° C.

As for the purported health benefits of the bacteria found in a spring, Live Water cites a study that is—shall we say?—far more speculative than it is informative. Yes, the authors found a variety of bacteria in a spring near Comano, Italy, but the evidence for the health effects of these bacteria is basically a lot of handwaving. As for the bit about beneficial bacteria “transforming” harmful bacteria, let’s just say that a link to the Wikipedia entry on phage therapy is not a convincing argument. Yes, viruses known as bacteriophages can transform and, in some cases, kill bacteria, but this is not an argument that Live Water has health benefits.

Regarding one of the other water sellers mentioned, I can’t help but note that Zero Mass is a system costing “$4,000 plus tax, delivery and installation” that isolates water by condensing water from the humidity in the air using solar power. Its makers claim it can work in areas of low humidity, like the deserts of Arizona. There’s nothing wrong with such a device, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s also silly to lump this system in with purveyors of “natural” water. Given that this system uses energy to cause water to condense from the atmosphere, after which the water is treated by being pumped through a cartridge that adds magnesium, calcium, and other minerals to the water, as well as filtering out pollutants, I fail to see how this water is any more “natural” than standard tap water, other than that it doesn’t contain chlorine.

I’ve concentrated mainly on bacteria, of course, because that’s the most obvious problem with the raw water movement, that untreated water can harbor disease. However, they are not the only problems with raw water. I also can’t help but note that one big booster of the “raw water” movement is Doug Evans, who moved rapidly to raw water after his business selling a $400 raw juicer Juicero shut down.

I can’t help but think that those of us living in developed nations are so wrapped up in our little cocoons of technology that we forget that in much of the world potable water is not a given—nowhere near it. Waterborne disease is still very common, with waterborne diarrheal diseases responsible for 2 million deaths each year, with the majority occurring in children under 5. As for those advocates claiming that raw water is more “natural” and “alive,” I like to point out that Giardia, amoebic dysentery, cholera, salmonella and shigella, E. coli, and a whole host of other waterborne diseases that used to regularly cause outbreaks that would kill humans in large numbers before the advent of sewage and water treatment systems (and still do in undeveloped countries) are very much “natural” and “alive” as well.

It would be one thing if there were demonstrable health benefits to “Live Water” and other “raw water” products compared to tap water or even bottled water. In such a case one could discuss the risk of disease versus the documented health benefits. Sadly, however, there are no such health benefits yet demonstrated. Raw water is all high (and expensive) risk for no scientifically demonstrable benefit.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

72 replies on “Got diarrhea? The latest trend in fashionable nonsense is “raw water””

I note in the case of the Live Water company that they are apparently using the same water as the Deschutes Valley Water District (tapping the Opal Springs aquifer) in Madras, Oregon. The water district is not required to filter or treat its water and doesn’t because it passes all the required tests

I admit saying they are selling Oregon tap water wouldn’t sound as good (though they might have their own well into the aquifer).

No separate well. They just get it from the tap, same as everyone else in the town.

“They all like to sorta imply that they’re filling bottles right outta Opal Springs,” Edson Pugh, the general manager, told me. “They are not down at our spring bottling directly from the source. It’s the same water that we’re serving our customers.”

In other words, Live Water’s pricey “Fountain of Truth” is just the tap water from Jefferson County, which residents get piped into their homes for about one-third of a cent per gallon.

When we asked Live Water to confirm this, Singh was open about it.

“The town of Madras, Oregon, has been drinking raw unsterilized Opal Springs water from their taps for over half a century and no one has ever gotten sick,” Singh said in an email. “Our water is indeed the same water that comes out of their taps.” Shortly before publication, Live Water updated its site to acknowledge this fact.

Sort of simular situation in the Dutch town Utrecht I think. There is a springwater company selling bottled water from the same well as the tapwater.

At least the sprinwater company doesn’t sell it as raw water.

Founder Mukhande Singh … —whose birth name is Christopher Sanborn

Because of course it is.

We had an experiment in biology where we we took a bottle of bottled water, and looked at it every day for a week.
The bottle was in a fridge and we just opened it and took a little for the microscope. I wouldn’t drink that water after less than a week and they want it to last a lunar cycle?

Not sure if “raw water” is quite the same thing as rain water,but I collect rain water and snow melt off my roof to water plants with.I know that’s illegal in some places.It looks nice and clear when it comes off my roof,but if you keep it around a week or so,and it develops quite a bit of algae bloom.I can’t imagine keeping the stuff around for a whole lunar cycle.If,as Smut Cycle points out,this is just overpriced tap might be safe to keep around and drink like this.

The thing is, the bottled water was “normal” bottled water, because the tap water in my country gets chlorinated. I researched the guidelines, and they are actually pretty similiar, and if I assume the bottled water didnˋt get contaminated, they same would happen to tap water. Icould try keeping a bottle of tap water in the fridge for a week, but since I don’t have access to microscope, the experiment would be pretty pointless.
PS: I won’t post the guidelines of my country since I would have to translate them and I think details get lost in translation.

Where is it illegal to collect and reuse rainwater? not doubting you, i have just never heard this. In Aus there are planning laws (i don’t think they apply to all jurisdictions) that require new house builds to have a rainwater tank installed. I think they were introduced during what was called the millennium drought, a drought bad enough to turn multiple rivers into a series of pools.

Not in my area, where the city sold rain barrels to collect roof rain at a discount. They are intended for watering gardens during our relatively dry summers, but not for drinking.

“Where is it illegal to collect and reuse rainwater?”

It was my understanding that in some US Rocky-Mountain states, the rainwater is in effect owned by agriculturalists downstream, so any attempt to divert rain on your property is theft.

“no scientifically demonstrable benefit.”

Wrong. Like with eating organic food, drinking this expensive water allows the buyer to feel superior to poor people.

I don’t really understand this whole ‘appeal to nature’ thing anyway. Nature offers far more nasty things than beneficial things, and this is simply because almost every living thing is constantly evolving to stay alive (as a species, that is). This means that there are lots of things that try to eat you in countless ways, and that many of the things that you eat, try(*) to avoid this same fate. The only exceptions that I can think of are fruit, whereby plants deliberately produce parts to be eaten in order to gain an advantage in spreading their offspring, and organisms eating other, already deceased organisms, without actively killing those organisms.

I get the distinct feeling that those nature woo-ists believe that we humans are robbing or tricking Nature with all our ingenious ways to improve our survival (which has something to say for it, given our excessive consumption), and that we’d be much better off if we’d stop using our brains for better survival and humbly submitted ourselves to Nature’s wiles once again (which, in my opinion, is flat-out wrong).
The most hilarious part is that this ‘stop modern thinking and blindly trust Nature’ thing is presented as a smart thing to do, especially when considering that these people first and foremost want you to trust them, not nature.

*: Yeah yeah, evolution has no mind and doesn’t ‘try’ or ‘aim’ in any way, it’s just the mechanism by which organisms develop in such a way as to maximize reproductive success and survival chances. But for instance individual animals most definitely resist being eaten, and thus can be said to try and stay alive.

Addition on the ‘eat-or-be-eaten’ thing: there are of course also lots of symbiotic relationships with benefits for all participants, not involving killing one another in any way. Still, survival as a species usually involves gaining an advantage over others, which is by definition harmful for those others.

Richard: So true. They filter their relationship with the natural world through a nostalgic bias for a purity that was never there.

Even thinking ethically, I’ve heard their appeals to musubi, connection, without the other part of it, responsibility. And, it seems, as with vaccines, they refuse to acknowledge the connection with the natural world that allows us to use our body’s responses, a product of evolution within nature, to responsibly provide a healthy life for our community.

Seems to me that practitioners of woo rarely concern themselves with ethics.

Aren’t there vitamins (and even, sometimes, probiotics) in, you know, food? Like fortified (pasteurized) milk, fortified grain products, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, etc? And aren’t there oodles of supplements available? Why do we need vitamins and “probiotics” in our water as well?

I was raised consuming raw milk and drinking raw water

Rigorous testing by the provincial ministry of agriculture helped ensure the safety of the milk and it was a 2 minute walk from cow to refrigerator.

We had the water tested regularly and there was no credible source of pollution within 50 km.

I would not consider buying untreated water or raw milk in a store. Who knows what things the idiots packaging them have done?

@ Orac
I doubt if I have actually drunk a glass of milk in 50 years but I don’t remember that pasteurization had much if any effect on the taste of milk. My semi-educated guess is that that cow’s diet is much more important as would be the butterfat content of the milk.

When I was a small child, we had a neighbor with a small dairy herd. Most of the milk got sold to the local cheese factory. However, they kept some for their personal use. As I was a child, I was generally offered milk to drink if we were there for a meal. I always chose tea, which I drink black. The milk tasted/smelled like a barn to me. They were happy, grass feed cows. I don’t know why the milk seemed so awful. I’m sure it was perfectly safe but I couldn’t drink it.

I drank raw milk once, and other than the fact that it was warm (having come straight from the cow), I don’t remember any difference in taste. Of course that was about 60 years ago, so I may not be remembering correctly. I do think that anyone who is clever enough to drink raw water (not checking the source) should also live on raw corn and raw olives. After all, raw is better, right?

These folks aren’t the first to try the scam of selling tap water as bottled water. One of the things they tell you to watch out for when traveling in certain countries is to check that the seal on your bottled water is intact–unscrupulous sellers have been known to put tap water in a bottle and call it “bottled water”. And as Orac notes in the OP, there is a reason they advise you not to drink the water in those countries.

As for the containers: Five gallons of water is 40 pounds (about 18 kilos), not counting the weight of the container. A healthy adult should be able to lift and carry that much over short distances (for comparison, excess baggage charges on US airlines start at 50 pounds). Poland Spring, for one, sells water in five-gallon containers, and I know (because I have done it several times) that I can lift one of those containers and put it on the dispenser in my workplace. Is there something wrong with the customers of “raw water” that they cannot lift 40 pounds?

Well, I am an old lady who, while quite fit, has some difficulty lifting 40 lbs these days. And I have lifted weights for years, though I don’t so much anymore. I would certainly have difficulty lifting a glass 5 gal water jug high enough to install it onto one of those earthenware jugs that dispenses the water. I am 5’ 2” and that thing was on a 3 ft stand. I used it when we had a really old house and I was actually concerned about the 100 year old plumbing. I was about 50 then and had a hard time lifting those things high enough to get them in place.

Not so.
An Imperial pint (used in England, Australia, New Zealand, etc. pre-metric days) is 20 fluid ounces, and so weighs around 20 ounces, or a pound and a quarter.
An Imperial gallon is eight pints; so is around 5 liters rather than the slightly less than 4 for a US gallon.

Those fancy (and very pretty) glass bottles probably add a lot of weight, above and beyond the weight of the water. And if you drop a plastic bottle the worst that happens is you’ve spilled 5 gallons of water. Drop one of those glass bottles and you’ve got a real risk of injury (as I’ve learned the hard way).

We were at a very high end restaurant a few years ago when a very elegant waiter apprpoached our table and asked if we wanted “bottled” or “Lake Michigan’s finest” water. We were delighted to opt for LMF and have borrowed the phrase ever since.

It was such a relief from all the woo one encounters almost everywhere.

“…aren’t there oodles of supplements available? Why do we need vitamins and “probiotics” in our water as well?”

We’re already told that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is inadequate since soil nutrient depletion supposedly lowers their goodness and requires the intake of “dietary supplements”. I suspect that the next marketing frontier will involve claiming that supplements are inadequate because the herbs in them are less potent for the same reason, so we need fortified water too.

1) There’s another reason to take tap water over bottled.
Bottled water is regulated by the FDA as a food. Tap water is regulated by the EPA. Want to guess which set of standards is more stringent?

2) At home of abroad, fruit that has a peel or rind that has to be removed (e.g.melons, citrus, pineapple) should be washed before opening. Bacteria can be carried into the fruit from the surface on the knife or the fingers. One notorious case was at a farmstand in Connecticut where the knife used to cut watermelons was carrying bacteria from one melon to the next.

3) More years ago than I care to mention, I learned in a Boy Scout survival class how to condense water out of the air, and it didn’t require any input other than air and a temperature differential.

Well part 3 would require a little more than just air, you would need air with moisture in it. There are places in the world with humidity low enough that you would not get a usable amount of water from the atmosphere.

Actually it’s called a solar still and it’s a desert survival technique. It can provide a surprising amount of water.
As Yogi Berra used to say, “You could look it up.”

I went back and checked up on my recollections of solar stills. I remembered how to make one, but after so many years I had forgotten how it works. It draws water from the soil so is best used where subsurface water may be hiding, like in a wadi or a dried up pool. I found detailed directions and information somewhere in this website:

Raw water? One of the many things I do for work (only 7 days to go) is monitoring water quality for three public water systems. The list of contaminants that we test for is longer than your arm. Bacterial contamination is the just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on the type of water system the frequency of testing will vary but what is tested for does not. Besides bacteria (coliform bacteria is used only as an indicator that other biologicals may also be present), you have lead/copper, TTHM, HAA5s, VOCs, SOCs, radioactives, IOCs etc. Those are for groundwater systems, surface water systems (such as springs) have additional requirements added to what groundwater systems are required to do.

Boiling water may actual cause harm if it is contaminated by something other than biologicals. If the water has high nitrates, boiling simply increases the concentration. The same for lead/copper.

I read a paper a number of years ago in The Journal of American Water Works (no longer have the citation) that 90% of all sickness in the world can attributed to bad water or food. That is a fairly large number.

The regulatory failure that happened in Flint should lead to jail and fines for not only city, state but also federal officials.

The only way I will drink raw water is in a survival situation and then reluctantly.

As someone who probably drinks the water you monitor, THANK YOU! My requirements in water are basic: safe to drink out of the tap. After that I would prefer it not be practically carbonated (eww LA, eww), or nasty tasting (big improvements in the past 30 years San Angelo, but still got a ways to go).

PNW water is great because 1) great conditions and 2) a lot of people working very hard to keep it clean!


Your welcome. Most people don’t understand how incredibly complicated providing potable (safe but taste is not a basic safety requirement) water is. While Nixon is not one my favorite presidents he did sign the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts into law.

Without the CWA and SDWA and the regulations that go with them, the US would be like many third world countries. What happened in Flint is an example of what happens if the laws and regulations aren’t followed or weren’t there.

I’ve always wondered how woo-sellers could reasonably market water in NYC because it already has rather special, natural water mostly from the pristine mountains 100 miles away in the vicinity of Woodstock – the artsy town, not the festival.
AS you may know, it is why the pizza and cupcakes are so excellent.

Of course, the real alties frown upon the chlorine.

But surely the real worry with raw water ought to be the homeopathically super-potent dosages of all those medicines that the water has encountered on its trip to the Orb.
As a kid, growing up in the countryside, we drank raw water pumped up from the local river, as did everyone else around us. But my grandfather would only drink the water after it had been boiled. And when I looked at the algae and mosses growing in the tank when we cleaned it every year or so, I could understand why; though I kept on drinking it. But this was 60 years ago.

Ordinarily I have some sympathy for those who get conned by alt med grifters. The victims are to some degree desperate. However, I have no compassion for those who would fall for the “raw water” scam. They are fools who have more money than sense. They deserve what they get (nothing, if they are very lucky).

The next new raw product: Raw Sea Air. Just send us your container. If the container can hold compressed air, we will compressed the raw sea air to max pressure. Satisfaction guaranteed. Will refund all money less shipping, handling and compression charges if not satisfied.

Sounds like a good scam. Of course we’ll use the compressor at the tire shop to fill the bottles.

Mt Everest climbers could bring back bottled air from the summit and we could sale that as the ultimate raw air. I would hate to think what some buyer (idiot) would pay for a bottle.

At least the bottle has some value. In fact this may be nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell arty bottles to people who would otherwise not care to do so.

I thought that one of the arguments against vaccines and other medical interventions was that they didn’t actually reduce ratesof disease instead it was the increased access to clean water and sanitation that made people healthier. So, I guess, if treated water is bad then the only thing keeping us healthy as more people drank it was the vaccines after all.

Sophy: True up to a point. If I recall my virology correctly, improved sanitation increased the incidence of polio. The reason was that the prevalence of the polio virus in water meant that people usually contracted it as infants and rarely came down with the neurological symptoms associated with the disease. Improved sanitation delayed the age of infection to the point where the more developed nervous system of children or adults could not cope with the disease.

Readers – please correct me if I’m wrong.

I’m so happy you wrote/posted this! When I first read this story, I really wanted to email it to you and ask for some insolence.

On the positive side, all the articles I’ve read covering raw water (except NYT) have been appropriately scathing about the premise. It’s nice to see proper reporting on woo for once.

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a link to Pinterest….

I’ll say. (Oddly, I’ve yet to find an image of the hatha yoga photo book that one of my old bosses stole from me, along with an undergrad textbook on point set topology and Spivak’s Calculus on Manifolds.)

I used to watch Lilias on TV but that was a long time ago.

I’m surprised they’re not bottling Ganges River water and selling it. Isn’t that supposed to be absolutely pure and have miraculous healing powers?

Raw water? Yikes. On a trip to China with a tour group, we visited the park at Zhangjiajie. We found an open well-spring/pond there billed as the “Health and Prosperity spring.” One guy on the tour group took the billing literally and drank some of it directly out of the spring. I wish I could say he wasn’t pooping his guts out for the remainder of the trip, but yeah, he needed antibiotics. Rule one, raw water might as well be raw sewage.

So it’s more: “Want diarrhea?”
“Take raw water.”
Just like it thought.

One guy on the tour group took the billing literally and drank some of it directly out of the spring.

Let’s just say that I should have stuck with the Scotch that the only Van Morrison fans I encountered in an outdoor stall in Morocco had rather than supplementing it with water from a nearby pipe.

I wouldn’t drink it unless it was free range and gluten-free. Avoiding GMOs is another matter.

So as someone who has drank from well water most of their life, am I drinking “raw water?” I now have a whole house sediment filter and carbon filters (e.g. britta pitcher) for my drinking water but would my garden hose (pre-filtration) be classified as raw water? I’m pretty slack in getting my water tested, especially considering I used to a director of QC responsible for testing USP and WFI water (among raw material and final product testing) for a biotech company. If I were a complete heartless ass I suppose I could quit consulting and sell overpriced water from my hose, no?

I was hoping you would tackle this one, Oh box of blinking lights. I saw this last week and in between laughing at it and being angry at the obvious scam, I thought of Orac and hoped to see some Insolence directed it’s way. These people are nothing short of scam artists, ripping people off, selling what’s worse than tap water.

Food for thought.

Just wondering if those disciples of raw water would tolerate it in a parenteral (injectable) drug formulation. A lot of expense goes into design, construction, and running pharmaceutical water systems to ensure purity, especially when we can only prove a statistical level of asepsis rather than the sterility of every unit in an entire batch of product.

If there are so many problems with the water grid, why are wealthy people spending hundreds of dollars on “raw water” when they could be using their money and influence to fix the water for everyone?

Yeah. My newborn son, the day we brought him home from the hospital, developed a high fever and had to be rushed to the ER. A number of heelsticks/urine catheters/spinal tap (again, @ <72 hours on this planet) later, the ID folks at the children’s hospital determined his blood was infected by Enterococcus faecalis, a nasty bug often transmitted through feces. (They still have no idea how he got it, but that’s another post …) My point is, having seen what a fecal-bacteria infection can do, I’ll take the theoretical downsides of filtered tap water any day of the week.

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