There are few things on Earth — no matter how unsavory — that can’t get a wholesome makeover from the product labeling department.
Take the new craze for "raw" water, for example.
Minerals! Probiotics! Beneficial bacteria!
And the extra-fine print at the very bottom: May contain squirrel poo.
Of course, the purveyors of the latest drink fad — unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized spring water marketed as "raw" — wouldn't be legally required to list some of the less salutary substances, or their potential ill effects.
But the idea of spinning unclean water into gold seems to be taking hold.
The charm, according to companies like Live Water, is that water is "perfect just the way it is."
In other words, unfiltered, untreated and unsterilized — essentially a return to the land of lakes and tummy aches. Or a reversal of centuries of water treatment and sanitation.
Back to those bracing days when water could kill you!
Sure, as Lloyd Alter writes in Treehugger, those days aren’t still fully behind us. Lapses and breakdowns in municipal treatment systems — or all-out negligence as we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan — remind us of naked water’s lethal potential.
"Water quality and safety is serious stuff, and 'raw' water can make you seriously sick," Alter notes. "This is truly the dumbest idea ever to come out of California."
And we would be hard-pressed to disagree. Sure, the water that some 280 million Americans get from their tap is no angel. Some microbes with a penchant for gut grief slip through water treatment plants. Small amounts of the chlorine used to treat it are in virtually every sip. And then there are occasional breakdowns at the plant that let all kinds of hitchhikers through — prompting, hopefully, a boil-water advisory.
Despite the high-profile breakdowns, municipal water systems have been America's gastrointestinal guardians since 1972's sweeping Clean Water Act was enacted.
While treated faucet water isn't without the potential for impurities, they're relatively minuscule compared to tapping into the great unregulated unknown that is "raw" water.
"There are many sources of water contamination, including naturally occurring chemicals and minerals like arsenic," Vince Hill. acting chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at the CDC, tells the medical journal Healio. "There are local land use practices that introduce fertilizers and pesticides into the water supply; there are manufacturing processes, sewer discharges and septic tanks. There are also chemicals and organic and inorganic contaminants that can be in water. These processes may allow contaminates into ground water and spring water. It can look clear, but it can still contain toxins that cause illness."
Even the possible benefits of getting probiotics from water is a gamble not worth taking, notes Uttam Saha, program coordinator at the Agricultural & Environmental Services Lab at the University of Georgia Extension.
"I would say the risk is more than the potential benefits of drinking the water," he tells USA Today. "You don't know whether the water contains disease-carrying organisms or not, and the same is true for probiotics, we don't know if they are there unless the water is tested."
Still, there appears to be a growing thirst for fresh takes on H2O — ones that sidestep those trusty stewards of sanitation.
"Raw" water may seem like an effort to get away from all that newfangled water treatment technology — and get back to nature. You know, like when all that scrappy bacteria made life interesting — or snuffed it out completely. But even if you're looking to add a little bacteria to your water, you might also consider taking it with a grain of salt.
Live Water offers this proverbial fine print at the bottom of its website:
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Our services are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult your health care provider before making a decision to switch your drinking water source.
Some things, like that sobering asterisk at the bottom of every sales pitch, never get old.