Have you ever wondered why bottled water became so popular?

Prior to 1989, only posh brands such as Evian were available. Then in 1989, a polymer called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) made the packaging lightweight, durable and inexpensive. Thus a craze was born.

Now, some Californians are tying to pump-up a fun, new water-based fad: Raw Water!

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.

I highlighted the words in The New York Times article because I was stunned at the potential health issues that could arise from drinking water that could contain deadly bacteria, parasites, and heavy metals.

It seems that after living in the Golden Age of Antibiotics, some people have forgotten how lethal waterborne diseases could be.

Food-safety expert and lawyer Bill Marler reviewed the hazards of untreated, unsterilized water in a Business Insider interview:

“Almost everything conceivable that can make you sick can be found in water,” Marler told Business Insider.

Unfiltered, untreated water, even from the cleanest streams, can contain animal feces, spreading Giardia, which has symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea and results in roughly 4,600 hospitalizations a year. Hepatitis A, which resulted in 20 deaths in a California outbreak in 2017, can be spread through water if it isn’t treated. E. coli, and cholera can also be transmitted via untreated water.

Because filtered, treated water has become the norm, Marler says, most people don’t realize how dangerous so-called raw water can be.

“The diseases that killed our great-grandparents were completely forgotten about,” he said.

Other diseases and potentially lethal pathogens that are spread by contaminated water include:

  • Travellers’ Diarrhea
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Dysentery
  • Salmonella
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Hepatitis E
  • Campylobacter

My brother caught dysentery during a tour of duty during Desert Storm.  He says it was the fastest 50 pounds he ever lost.

Fortunately, he survived. Dysentery takes the life of 50,000 people annually.

Young children are especially susceptible to diarrhoeal diseases, which claim the lives of over 500,000 boys and girls under the age of 5 annually.

Finally, untreated water can also contain chemical contaminants, which is why there are regulatory limits on their presence in the public water system. The “Raw Water” promoters may want to talk to some of Michigan’s former public works officials about the consequences of dealing with chemically unsafe water.

Here’s to hoping that “Raw Water” craze is flushed away before someone becomes seriously ill.


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