People following the new trend of drinking untreated, unfiltered water — as a healthier alternative to the tap — could actually be exposing themselves to a number of contaminants.
A recent New York Times story shed light on the growing trend of marketing unfiltered, untreated spring water – called “raw water” – as an alternative to drinking tap water. Raw water drinkers suggest that it’s safer than subjecting themselves to the toxins found in the “water grid,” which have drawn much attention following the public health problems linked to lead pipes in Flint, Michigan. A number of startup companies are selling raw water that is free of chlorine, fluorine and other treatments that have been used to decontaminate water supplies for years.
Charles Haas, PhD, LD Betz Professor of Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, who is an expert in assessing the risk of contamination in water, suggests that drinking raw water to get off the water grid is a dangerous idea. Haas, who was recently recognized by the National Water Research Institute for pioneering work in microbial risk assessment, notes that water treatment is an important development that helps to stave off a number of contaminants – found both in nature and in the delivery pipes – so drinking untreated water is actually likely to increase health risks.
Haas raised these points in substantiating his assessment of the raw water trend:
- Untreated water taken from unprotected surface or groundwater supplies is subject to contamination from pathogens (some of which may be from agriculture or wildlife) and chemicals that could pose a public health risk.
- Provision of water from the best available source, treatment, and distribution are regarded as major engineering and public health advances of the 20th century, and have been responsible for the dramatic reduction of numerous infectious diseases.
- Community water supplies are required to frequently monitor their water after treatment and in distribution for a larger number of regulated contaminants to ensure public health.
Haas has previously provided expert input and commentary, based on his extensive research, following a number of water contamination events including the Flint water crisis, the Ebola outbreak in 2014, and several chemical spills.
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