Raw water: the New Age death wish

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Drinking from a stream: stupid ideaWould you willingly expose yourself to cholera? While treatable, this highly infectious disease causes great physical distress and suffering to its victims, and is even fatal to some. Most readers have never experienced it because it’s rather a rarity in developed nations, those that have the benefit of modern water and wastewater treatment systems. That’s thanks to decades of stringent and effective health and safety standards and constantly improving treatment systems.

But for some, it seems, those systems are a terrible burden; a worrisome threat to their natural state. The very notion of clean, hygienic water bereft of bacteria and pollutants threatens their peace of mind. They demand to be fed unfiltered water, bravely willing to accept the threat of travellers’ diarrhea, Giardia, Cryptosporidium (from cattle feces), dysentery, Salmonella, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 (E. coli, found throughout the natural environment), Typhoid Fever, Cholera, Hepatitus A, Hepatitus E, Campylobacter (from bird guano), Norovirus, Shigella and other infections and parasites.

It’s better, these New Age adventurers believe, to risk illness, pain, paralysis and even death than drink water from a municipal tap that might have come into contact with chlorine or fluoride. The taint of civilization, of modernity, or – gasp! – chemicals shall not pass their lips. Seriously: this is truly one of the most bizarre, stupid, and dangerous, wingnut fads to emerge.

“Raw” water – or as The Verge more appropriately called it, “raw diarrhea” – is the latest craze among those obsessed with the internet-driven fads-du-jour.

These are the same people who worship the Queen of Pseudoscience Fads, Vani Hara aka The Food Babe. These are the warriors who spent thousands more to buy free-range chicken, organic avocados, tomatoes, corn, and kale, then crusade against GMOs (oh, the irony, the irony…). These are the folks who refuse to get their children vaccinated because they think having children suffer and possibly die from diseases like rubella, smallpox, polio and whooping cough is more natural than having them artificially healthy through medicine. These are the people who crusaded against the ubiquitous chemical, dihydrogen monoxide in foods (insert laugh track).

I doubt one of them knows how municipal water is treated, how the infrastructure or facilities work, what technologies have evolved or changed, and how many millions of technicians, scientists and engineers work every day to improve our water systems. I doubt one of them actually knows the science or history behind chlorine or fluoride. To New Agers, science is a dark art: scary, mystical, untrustworthy.

According to The Observer, people across the USA are lining up to spend $36.99USD on a 2.5-gallon (9.46l) container of “raw” water (refills are $15 USD). Business Insider writes of another brand – Fountain of Truth Water – selling at $60.99 USD for 2.5 gallons. Those afflicted by this bizarre behaviour are apparently part of the “water consciousness” movement – although unconsciousness seems more apt a description. The Observer quotes the founder of Live Water, one of the suppliers:

The founder of Live Water, Mukhande Singh, told The Times he believes that public water has been poisoned. “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.”

Mukhande Singh was born Christopher Sanborn, but I guess he felt his WASP birth name wasn’t mystical enough to sell magical water (I want people to call me Acheron Eventide to reflect my Gothic vampire heritage, but no one does…). Well, yes, Christopher: tap water IS toilet water. But then, everything in the natural environment poops. The difference is that water treatment facilities remove the feces, and a wide variety of toxins, and kill the bacteria before consumers drink it. But you don’t. Yours may not be from human toilets, but the feces of birds, fish, insects, deer, cows, sheep, dogs and other animals are much more likely to be present in it than in my tap water. Natural toilets aren’t any cleaner or safer than ceramic ones. And if you really want probiotic bacteria, eat yogurt. It’s healthier and a helluva lot safer.

Singh is quoted in the New York Times warning consumers that his water may turn green:

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.”

Water IS dead to start with. It’s a simple chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen, not a living entity. It has no soul or spirit: it’s inanimate. Sure, untreated water has living things in it, which should set off alarms to anyone who thinks about it. Do you really want to trust water that even the producer warns can turn green? The idea water is alive is one of those wacky New Age fantasies promoted by the uber-wingnut, Masuro Emoto. It isn’t. It’s just more woo hoo.

The Observer follows Singh’s comments with the understated note that, “There is no scientific evidence that fluoride is a mind-control drug, but plenty to show that it aids dental health.” No shit.

This reminds me of the ongoing New Age fad for raw milk – another stupid pseudoscience notion – and the subsequent illnesses that resulted from eschewing pasteurization in favour of New Age woo hoo: vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache, and body ache from the numerous Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria in raw milk.

The symptoms of any of the numerous diseases and parasites you can get from raw water are similar, but even nastier: loose or watery bowel movements, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, fever, gas, chills, headache, profuse, bloody diarrhea, intense stomach pain, rapid weight loss, dehydration, kidney failure, joint pain, jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, and an enlarged, tender liver. Complications from infection can include hepatitis, painful inflammation of the joints which can last for several months and and neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barr syndrome, a polio-like form of paralysis that can result in respiratory and severe neurological dysfunction. And, of course, death.

But, the imbibers will say from their sick bed, at least it’s gluten-free!

By October, 2017, in one year 815,000 people in Yemen contracted cholera from raw water in 2017. By year-end, that number had reached one million, making it the worst outbreak of the disease in history. Some 4,000 cases are reported daily, more than half of them children. About 2,200 of those infected have died. This is just one of the threats raw water drinkers are exposing themselves to. And because cholera and many other diseases associated with untreated water are infectious, they are exposing their families and co-workers, too.

The Washington Post commented on the Yemeni situation:

Let that sink in for a second. One million people have contracted a disease that we’ve understood how to treat and contain since John Snow sat by a water pump in 1854. For cholera to spread this fast, everything has to go wrong. In Yemen, everything has.

And yet here, in 2018, educated, smart – yet apparently supremely gullible – Americans are drinking expensive, unfiltered water that could infect them, while pure, clean, municipal tap water is available for almost nothing. Let that sink in. I say Americans because so far I find no evidence this fad has travelled to other nations. Yet. Social media is a potent force for energizing nonsense, fads and conspiracy theories. Raw water madness may yet seep across the borders in Canada.

What’s in this “raw” water? Proponents say necessary minerals and helpful bacteria. But as The Verge notes, there’ also a lot more and most of it is pretty unsavoury:

Groundwater wells — the ultimate in off-the-grid water that roughly 15 million households in the US rely on — also need to be routinely tested for safety. Chemicals like arsenic, metals like uranium, or contaminants from agricultural activities like nitrates can leach into the groundwater that supplies both wells and springs. Even rainwater — which is a great for your garden — is less safe for drinking unless it’s been treated, the CDC says. Animal feces, chemicals in air pollution or in roofing materials and gutters, and insect larvae can all swim around in rain barrels.

Between 1971 and 2008, the USA had 248 outbreaks of diseases associated with groundwater. From these outbreaks, there were, “…at least 23,478 cases of illness, 390 hospitalizations, and 13 deaths.” Between 2009 and 2012, another 28 outbreaks were reported to the CDC.

Groundwater contamination is a serious threat. In Ontario alone, there are 22 committees tasked with the business of source water protection: overseeing plans and policies, as well as local sites and potential hazards.

The US government library of medicine noted:

The majority of outbreaks had an unidentified etiology (n?=?135, 54.4%). When identified, the primary etiologies were hepatitis A virus (n?=?21, 8.5%), Shigella spp. (n?=?20, 8.1%), and Giardia intestinalis (n?=?14, 5.7%). Among the 172 (69.4%) outbreaks with contributing factor data available, the leading contamination sources included human sewage (n?=?57, 33.1%), animal contamination (n?=?16, 9.3%), and contamination entering via the distribution system (n?=?12, 7.0%). Groundwater contamination was most often facilitated by improper design, maintenance or location of the water source or nearby waste water disposal system (i.e., septic tank; n?=?116, 67.4%). Other contributing factors included rapid pathogen transport through hydrogeologic formations (e.g., karst limestone; n?=?45, 26.2%) and preceding heavy rainfall or flooding (n?=?36, 20.9%).

The UK Telegraph quotes says Val Curtis, Professor of Hygiene and Director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine:

We’ve spent generations of science and effort to try and protect people from drinking raw water. It seems extraordinary that people want to go back to medieval times, when millions of people died from infections that were carried by it.

Business Insider quotes Bill Marler, a food-safety expert and lawyer:

The diseases that killed our great-grandparents were completely forgotten about.

The Telegraph also notes the fantastical claims made by one of the suppliers of this snake oil, Live Water, and the response from Curtis to their claims:

The water from Live Water is said to be naturally alkaline, abundant in sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, and high in natural silica – which Live Water states can keep skin hydrated and reduce wrinkles, keep hair and nails healthy, and even increase joint strength and flexibility.
To which Curtis would say: “We can believe in fairies too if we like. We could tell people to go out and lick a rock if we need more silica, or sell pet rocks as cures for diseases. It’s in the same realm as crystals, this belief in the properties of the natural environment to make you healthy.”

And therein lies the woo hoo behind raw water: magic. New Age magic. Like in crystals, like guardian angels, like healing magnets, like homeopathy, reflexology, iridology, phrenology, reiki, astrology and psychics. But whereas most of this woo hoo is designed solely to separate the gullible from their money (which it does, quite successfully), raw water is also dangerous and potentially lethal. But unscrupulous producers don’t care: it’s your money that matters. As long as people keep shelling out for their products, the body count is irrelevant. They’re just like the NRA: unethical, immoral, greedy.

And criminal, too. The New York Times writes about one entrepreneur who trespasses on private property at night to siphon water from springs he later sells to unsuspecting New Agers. Nothing like the cover of darkness to help you identify potential toxic threats or spills while you steal water.

And even if it doesn’t sicken or kill you, it will certainly impoverish you. The faithful don’t just buy the jars: they install Zero Mass Water systems to extract moisture from the air, and store – but not filter or sterilize the water. Those systems sell for about $4,500 USD each. And the water is as full of microbes and toxins as the bottled stuff.

This stuff is seriously expensive. They should just smoke tobacco. It’s cheaper.

Why would anyone with an IQ higher than their shoe size fall for such obvious quackery and snake oil? Because many people are gullible and uncritical. Put the label “natural” on anything and some folks will swoon over it; drag out their wallets and buy it regardless of the contents or price. On Science Based Medicine, David Gorski wrote:

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.”

The New York Times pieces quotes Daniel Vitalis, who promotes hunting water springs on FindASpring.com.

He prefers the term “unprocessed water,” which echoes the idea of processed versus unprocessed food.
“I don’t like ‘raw water’ because it sort of makes people think of raw sewage,” Mr. Vitalis said.

Well, Daniel, raw water IS raw sewage. And it doesn’t get better than that. This is New Age woo hoo with a death wish. And maybe that’s the Darwinian thing: let the ignorati run from science, medicine and technology (except, of course, their iPhones, which they will always carry…) and into the arms of the con artists and quacks who prey on their naivete. As long as they don’t ask the public health system to cure them of their self-inflicted diseases and infections, we should let them sicken and die in the natural way they desire.

But for those of my readers who have more brains than earthworms, DON’T drink this stuff. It can sicken, poison and even kill you. Don’t fall for the New Age woo hoo: there is no magic in raw water. And I WILL continue to call it raw water, regardless of Daniel Vitalis’ fretting over his public relations image, because it is raw sewage no matter how these sellers try to spin it.

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