A raw water blog: decide wisely before drinking

—-By Qishen Huang, PhD student of Civil & Environmental Engineering and Water IGEP of Virginia Tech.

Imagine the scene we are customers browsing in a wholesale club, and suddenly a decent and fancy glass bottle of water catches our attention, its label says “innocent natural spring water, build your strengths with nature” without any further detail information. Frankly, I probably would consider this product as a bottle of expensive beverage until I’m otherwise informed that it wasn’t treated before being sold. The deciding factor that affects my choice of purchasing or not in this scenario is the completeness of information. I clearly remember how astonished I was after hearing the trend of drinking raw water. Apparently everyone can have their own preferences; either liking one product over another or vice versa, but this preference should be based on the premise that the consumer knows sufficient information about consequences or risks they will be facing. I guess what makes me feels a bit uncomfortable, specifically for the raw water trend, is that we have an incomplete knowledge base regarding raw water.

The ongoing raw water trend is a gamble between the bravery of pursuing benefits from unknown system regardless of the risk and the resistance on protecting our health without exposing to danger. It might be true that raw water contains mineral and probiotics that could beneficial to our health, but the biggest concern here is the uncertainty. There might be evidence of possible benefits from consuming raw water that might surpass consuming tap water if the raw water’s sources have been thoroughly analyzed, however the risk can also be incredibly high. Moreover, even a known nutrition for human could become toxic if served with improper dosage. The well-known debate of fluoride dose in drinking water which raise the doubt for drinking water treatment plants in the public is a great example. On the topic of probiotics, the related wikipedia page provides references that describe them as “generally safe, but may cause-bacteria-host interactions and unwanted side effects in rare cases,”. Strict and specific principles about types and amount of these microorganisms are required to guarantee beneficial effects and product safety. However, if the components of raw water sources is unknown, and components of each bottle also seems very likely to be different from the others, it would be impossible for us to tell whether those minerals or probiotics will become next “fluoride dose” or not. That is why I consider raw water consumers as having strong belief and courage but why I don’t support drinking raw water at this stage.

We definitely are exposed to risks all the time. Drinking tap water can have other risks such as aging of infrastructures etc. Because of this, maybe it is time we stop proselytizing and spend more time thinking about what we could to do to improve our chance to stay healthy. No matter what ours choices are, I think we would all agree that having more complete and specific information for what we are drinking is helpful. Recently, we had a “Raw Water Project” in the interdisciplinary research class I’m currently taking. Four groups of students in the class prepared different forms of campaigns based on different targeted audiences. Two of the groups presented very straightforward and interesting activities for elementary kids, including demonstration of drinking water treatment process like sand filtration and a creative and informative card game which explains water resources and concepts of drinking water treatments. The other two groups created websites for raw water users (e.g. well owners) and different drinking water consumers respectively, informations including updated news, distribution of water sources, how we can test water quality by ourselves as well as where we could reach help for professional helps. The idea of this project is to build up our own understanding of raw water qualities as well as providing helpful information for potential readers that care about their drinking water quality.

We had an inspiring discussion during the project, we all share the same concerns about drinking raw water because of the unknown risks mentioned above, especially for younger kids who are more vulnerable to potential dangers than adults. We also agreed that a forceful tone of persuading is really ineffective, and that a better way to be helpful as scientists and engineers working in the drinking water field is to simply provide source of knowledge for any aspect of drinking water needed by the public. So my advice for the readers is that rely the decision about what water to drink on rational reasons in mind rather than how the products are promoted or package, and if you are not sure about what’s in tap water and what’s in other bottle waters, try to find more information or reach help is the best way to protect ourselves from risks.

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