Raw wa­ter craze is ‘quack­ery’

New fad for un­treated, un­fil­tered spring wa­ter gets thumbs down from ex­perts.

Herald on Sunday - - NEWS - By Jamie Mor­ton

Ex­perts are cau­tion­ing Ki­wis against div­ing into the world’s lat­est nat­u­ral health craze — un­treated, un­fil­tered “raw” wa­ter.

In the US, there’s been a drive in al­ter­na­tive health cir­cles to “get off the wa­ter grid” and drink spring wa­ter that hasn’t been fil­tered, treated, or even ster­ilised.

One San Fran­cisco gro­cery store was sell­ing 9 litre orbs of the wa­ter — claimed to have “a vaguely mild sweet­ness, a nice smooth mouth feel, noth­ing that over­whelms the flavour pro­file” — for $50 each.

There didn’t yet ap­pear to be any com­pa­nies fol­low­ing suit here, but sci­en­tists have warned Ki­wis not to try sourc­ing their own — and stick to their town sup­ply.

“Con­sum­ing un­treated wa­ter is like driv­ing your car with­out wear­ing a safety belt — you might get away with it, but you are tak­ing an un­nec­es­sary risk,” said Michael Baker, a pro­fes­sor of pub­lic health at Otago Univer­sity in Welling­ton.

New Zealand sur­face wa­ter was heav­ily con­tam­i­nated with mi­crobes that could cause sick­ness, among them pro­to­zoa such as gi­a­r­dia and cryp­tosporidia, or bac­te­ria like sal­mo­nella and campy­lobac­ter, which struck down more than 5000 Have­lock North res­i­dents in 2016.

There were also in­creas­ing cases of se­ri­ous, and oc­ca­sion­ally fa­tal, shiga-toxin pro­duc­ing E. coli in­fec­tions, Baker said.

Baker dis­missed claims by pro­duc­ers of raw wa­ter of it be­ing su­pe­rior to prop­erly treated wa­ter as “id­i­otic”. “Ef­fec­tive treat­ment of drink­ing wa­ter is one of the most im­por­tant pub­lic health mea­sures in his­tory — so suc­cess­ful that many of us now take it for granted. Per­haps that is why some con­sumers are at­tracted to the idea that wa­ter treat­ment is op­tional.”

Univer­sity of Waikato bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences lec­turer Dr Ali­son Camp­bell, who was moved to write a blog post on the is­sue, also said there was no va­lid­ity in claims that bac­te­ria in raw wa­ter acted as pro­bi­otics.

“Raw wa­ter isn’t go­ing to be mag­i­cally bet­ter at hy­drat­ing peo­ple, to ad­dress just one of the claims made for it in the US.”

Wa­ter treat­ment used chlo­ri­na­tion, ozone, or UV treat­ment to pro­vide safe drink­ing wa­ter — since raw wa­ter con­tained none of that, con­sumers were at risk of po­ten­tial con­tam­i­na­tion, Camp­bell said.

So­ci­ety for Sci­ence Based Health­care chair­man Mark Hanna slammed the prod­ucts as “quack­ery”, say­ing it smacked of a “wa­ter pu­rity con­cept that goes hand-in-hand with anti-flu­o­ri­da­tion­ism”.

“I re­ally hope no one starts bot­tling unswimmable New Zealand river wa­ter and sell­ing it as ‘raw wa­ter’.”

Baker said sell­ing un­treated drink­ing wa­ter here was il­le­gal. Bot­tled wa­ter was cov­ered by the Food Act and there were also strin­gent in­dus­try stan­dards.

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