The problem with water, says Seattle food safety attorney Bill Marler, is that it is an efficient means of quickly transmitting pathogens.
“Look at what causes human illness and death after a hurricane, as in Puerto Rico, or an earthquake, as in Haiti, or people living without potable water in sub-Saharan Africa,” he says. “Cholera. Those things happen fairly commonly throughout the world. Water is the best mechanism to get those pathogens into your system.”
For that reason, Marler has staunchly opposed the sale of so-called “raw water,” unfiltered water currently trendy among a certain subset of consumers (most notably, as The New York Times and other outlets have reported, Silicon Valley millionaires).
“Some of the really specific risks of untreated water are bacterial, like E. coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; viral, like hepatitis A; and protozoan, like Cryptosporidium and Giardia,” Marler says. “In untreated water, there are plenty of risks. No untreated water is without risk. The greater the human and animal populations, the greater the risk of various contamination events.”
There are a variety of companies selling untreated water. The term “Raw Water” was trademarked in 2012 by Maine’s Tourmaline Springs, which sells its water for $2.99 per liter. However, Live Water, a California company that sells untreated spring water under the brand name Fountain of Truth, has become one of the most prominent sellers by virtue of price alone: 2.5 gallons of its water in a custom-made glass carafe sells for $38.49, with refills running at $14.99.
Live Water’s website claims, “The earth constantly offers the purest substance on the planet as spring water. We celebrate this ancient life source that humanity flourished from, since the beginning of our existence. We trust it’s perfect just the way it is.” Its spring provides water, it claims, “from a time when earth [sic] was pristine, and is estimated to have matured below the surface for up to 10,000 years before surfacing.” This water is high in silica, and the company also claims that it is rich in probiotics (though the latter claim has been questioned by critics).
About Jesse Staniforth
Jesse Staniforth is a Montreal-based freelance journalist, writer, and editor covering a variety of different beats. He reports regularly on Indigenous issues for The Nation magazine, serving the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, as well on Information Security issues for SC Magazine. His stories have appeared in a wide variety of other publications, from the Toronto Star and Metro News through AskMen.com and University Affairs. After editing several thousands of pages' worth of food preparation training materials for a hospitality industry group, he grew fascinated with the subject of food safety. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.