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'Raw Water' Is a New Health Trend. But Is It Safe?

From TIME - January 3, 2018

A New York Times story in December introduced a new health buzzword to the masses: raw water, or water that hasnt been treated, filtered or processed in any way.

While the beverage isnt widespread yet, a number of untreated water startups have cropped up in states ranging from California to Maine, according to the Times. Theyre attracting those with misgivings about tap water treatment processes and additives, as well as people who want to preserve the natural substances found in virgin water.

But is the stuff even safe?

The water system in the U.S. isnt perfectthere are aging pipes and infrastructure issues, for example, and lead contamination like that in Flint, Mich.but it has greatly improved public health over the past century. After the U.S. introduced filtration, chlorination and sanitation practices for public drinking water, the burden of water-borne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid fever plummeted almost to zero, says Kellogg Schwab, a professor of water and public health at Johns Hopkins Universitys Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was truly instrumental in improving public health in the United States, Schwab says. Having a central treatment process of our drinking water and then distributing it out to the individual homes and businesses is a tremendous asset that we, as a country, take for granted.

Drinking untreated water, and the pathogens that can lurk within it, could expose Americans to disease outbreaks once again, says Vince Hill, chief of the CDCs Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch. When water isnt treated, it can contain chemicals and germs that can make us sick or cause disease outbreaks, he says. Anything you can think of can be in untreated water, really, ranging from agricultural runoff and naturally occurring chemicals to bacteria and viruses.

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