All the rage in Silicon Valley, the raw water movement is defending the consumption of untreated water directly from the spring. Is this really a good idea?

Big innovations and trends that become part of our lives often begin in sunny Silicon Valley, California, USA. Despite being accustomed to viewing this region of the east coast of the United States with admiration, they don’t always get it right. Currently, the latest fad of drinking raw water has been questioned by the media and attacked by specialists.

But what is raw water?

The concept of raw water comes, to a certain extent, from the raw food movement. The idea behind the movement is the consumption of raw food of vegetable origin, without processing or cooking above 42º Centigrade. Its supporters argue that the food loses important enzymes during a large part of the cooking processes, and therefore raw food is healthier.

Some companies have even began bottling and selling it. Although this fad came into the spotlight recently, the movement of drinking water directly from the spring, without treatment, is not new.

Live Water, bottles raw water from a spring in Oregon and sells a 9.5 liter bottle for US$ 36.99. Turmaline spring does something similar in Maine, while in San Diego the Liquid Eden store sells variants such as fluoride and chlorine free water and an alkaline water with “mineral electrolytes” for US$ 2.50 a gallon (3.78 liters).

In addition, there is Zero Mass Water that helps people collect water from “atmosphere around their homes” with the installation of a system, which is not raw water, but an “alternative to drinking tap water”, according to a statement from a spokesperson for The New York Times. Since November, 2017, the company has been receiving requests from different regions of the USA and has already received US$ 24 million in investments from capital risk organizations.

Zero Mass Water

This situation brings up the age old questions about filtering processes. People have been questioning the addition of fluoride to public water, to protect the population from disease and contamination, ever since the 1950s in the USA.

What do the defenders of raw water say?

Advocates of raw water argue that it contains beneficial minerals, which are usually removed from water during the treatment process. Additionally, they say it doesn’t contain chemical products such as fluoride, like tap water, nor does it pass through any infrastructure, such as lead pipes, which could compromise its quality. Even traditional bottled water – because it is treated with ultraviolet light and ozone, and goes through filters to remove algae – kills the healthy bacteria or “probiotics” as they are known by their supporters.

A raw water enthusiast told The New York Times that she could already feel the positive effects of the water on her skin, “And I feel like I’m getting better nutrition from the food I eat.” For its proponents, raw water, with all its imperfections, offers more health benefits as well as more flavor.

What do those against raw water have to say?

Drinking untreated water in order to stop consuming fluoride doesn’t mean your are drinking raw water. Raw water, unfiltered, straight from the spring, can still contain chemical products such as dangerous pesticides and bacteria, as well as animal feces. The treatment of water, which removes bacteria, parasites, pesticides and other contaminants, is more than just the addition of fluoride.

Food specialist, food safety advocate and lawyer Bill Marler told the Business Insider that, “Almost everything conceivable that can make you sick can be found in water.” According to Marler, untreated and unfiltered water, coming from the cleanest rivers, can contain animal feces, spreading Giardia, an illness that causes symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea and is responsible for over 4,500 hospitalizations each year in the US. Hepatitis A, which resulted in 20 deaths in an outbreak in California in 2017, E.coli and cholera. In other words, there is no lack of dangers.

“The diseases that killed our great-grandparents were completely forgotten about,” said the expert. He thinks that the majority of Americans don’t know anyone personally who died of Hepatitis A or cholera, thanks to advances in technology and safety standards, including water. As a result, they find it hard to perceive the risks involved in consuming untreated water.

The United States, a country in the midst of a raw water craze, doesn’t have a perfect water system, but it has proved efficient in the way it has improved the health of the population over the course of the last century. With the introduction of filtering processes, chlorination and sanitation of public drinking water, the number of people infected by waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, has fallen to almost zero, says Kellogg Schwab, professor of water and public health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, to The New York Times. “Having a central treatment process of our drinking water and then distributing it out to the individual homes and businesses is a tremendous asset that we, as a country, take for granted.”

Drinking untreated water, especially due to the invisible pathogens which could be in it, could expose the population to outbreaks of disease once again, says Vince Hill, chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). “When water isn’t treated, it contains chemicals and germs that can make us sick or cause disease outbreaks,” he says. According to the specialist, everything that you can think of can be in untreated water: from agricultural runoff, and chemical products, to bacteria and viruses. In the United States, the water is treated to remove 91 different types of contaminants.

And as for the concerns of the raw water supporters with regards to fluoride, which is added to the water to help prevent dental cavities, Vincent Casey, senior hygiene manager for WaterAid, a non-profit foundation that promotes clean water, says that the levels of flouride found in drinking water are not harmful, even though it is harmful in high quantities.

The reason that leads people to look for water from a possibly polluted spring, echoes other extreme movements not only in the United States, but across the globe, such as that of anti-vaccination. Those who opt out of being vaccinated, for example, despite ample scientific evidence towards the importance of vaccines, put the most vulnerable at risk, sacrificing the immunity of an entire society.

At the same time, in developing countries, access to clean water and sanitation is a massive public health and human rights issue. The diseases associated with water, such as cholera, are still a global threat. In mid-2017, an outbreak of cholera – that is transmitted by drinking water or by food contaminated by a particular bacterium – reached 1 million suspected cases in Yemen. And this is just one of many examples.

What about you, do you think this fad is worth the risk?

What can you do?

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is committed to helping Canadians to have access a variety of affordable housing options. In its website there is a vast material on collecting and using Rainwater at home.

Content published in March 15, 2018

What Braskem is doing about it?

Since its creation in 2002, Braskem invests in several initiatives focused on water economy and reuse. Over this period, the company has invested over BRL 250 million in projects dedicated to water efficiency. Today, Braskem is one of the least water-consuming chemical industries in the world – about six times less water than the global average, according to  data by the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA). Amongst the main actions, one highlight is the Aquapolo project. Created in 2010 by Ambiental Odebrecht (currently Ambiental BRK), in partnership with Sabesp in the ABC Paulista region, it’s the biggest enterprise for the production of industrial reuse water in South America and the planet’s fifth biggest. Another initiative is the Água Viva project, a partnership between Braskem and Cetrel in the Industrial Hub of Camaçari (state of Bahia), which reduces the company’s water demand by 4 to 7 billion liters per year. Since 2017, Braskem remains in the “A-List” of CDP WATER and has become a global reference in the management of water resources and in contributing for the transition to a sustainable economy.

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