Startup companies are charging premiums for “live” water—but this buzzy product may not be safe.

Zee Krstic and Robby Melvin
May 04, 2018
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If you’re concerned about the safety of tap water but also reading up on the less-than-pure state of most bottled waters, then you may be considering a trendy new product: Raw water.

An increasing number of startups now deliver what they market as "live" "raw" or “untouched” water to those who are willing to pay a premium for it.

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According to the New York Times, the raw water movement initially manifested out of people’s desire to avoid fluoride many communities add to municipal water supplies.

Proponents believe the anti-pathogens and fluoride in tap water can be harmful. They also say urban water loses good bacteria and minerals when it's processed.

RELATED: Is Tap Water Safe to Drink?

The rapidly expanding fanbase has also grown to include those who are doubtful of the marketing ploys that many bottled water manufacturers use to sell their product. 

Is Raw Water Good for You?

The trend toward buying unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized "raw" water gathered steam in early 2018 among hardcore natural-food purists. Unprocessed spring water—about $15 a gallon—is so popular that places such as San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery can hardly keep it in stock.

Maybe you’d be willing to shell out the dough, but health experts are concerned that the raw water trend could increase the risk of water-borne illnesses that are commonly found in areas without clean drinking water.

Water treatment eliminates parasites, pesticides, and other illness-inducing pathogens. A few serious contaminants, like E. coli, are routinely found in untreated water, especially in sources that aren’t part of a county-wide system of utilities.

"I'd much rather be safe than increase my exposure to toxic chemicals or infectious agents," Philippe Grandjean, PhD, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health tells us. "So I would not recommend drinking untreated water unless I was completely certain of it being safe."

Photo: Caitlin Bensel

Vince Hill, chief of the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, tells Time that consuming raw water could lead to outbreaks, due to infectants ranging from agricultural runoff and other live bacteria.

What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration isn’t currently regulating sales of raw water: there is no current set standard of how bottled water must be treated, only guidelines on how much chemicals and bacteria is allowed in each product. Raw water providers aren’t currently listed as part of the FDA’s oversight into water products.

There are strong voices on each side of the debate for which kind of water tastes better—mostly from industry players who are betting raw water could be the next raw milk. A big difference is the length of viable potability: one source tells the Times that raw water will “turn green” if it isn’t consumed by the “use by” date.

If you’re truly concerned about what’s in your tap, we might suggest trying out an in-home water purifier first. We'll raise a (clear) glass to that.