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Food safety expert warns latest bizarre Silicon Valley 'raw water' trend could quickly turn deadly

Business Insider | Jan 3, 2018, 03.08AM IST

Live Water

Live Water

Live Water is a startup selling untreated water

  • Silicon Valley is developing an obsession with untreated, unfiltered water, according to the New York Times.
  • However, a food poisoning expert says that the trend is dangerous - and could be deadly.
  • "Raw" water can spread bacteria and diseases including cholera, E. coli, Hepatitis A, and Giardia.

When food safety expert Bill Marler saw The New York Times' trend piece on Silicon Valley's recent obsession with "raw water," he thought he was reading a headline from satire publication The Onion.

According to The Times, demand for unfiltered water is skyrocketing, as tech-industry insiders develop a taste for water that hasn't been treated to prevent the spread of bacteria or other contaminants.

In San Francisco, "unfiltered, untreated, un-sterilized spring water" is selling for $36.99 for a 2.5 gallon jug. Startups dedicated to untreated water are popping up. People - including startup flop Juicero's cofounder Doug Evans - are gathering gallons of untreated water from natural springs to bring to Burning Man.

Tourmaline Spring

Tourmaline Spring

Tourmaline Spring sells an untreated water as "sacred, living water"

While Evans and other fans say raw water is perfect for those who are "extreme about health," Marler - a food safety advocate and attorney - says the opposite is true.

"Almost everything conceivable that can make you sick can be found in water," Marler told Business Insider.

Unfiltered, untreated water - even from the cleanest streams - can contain animal feces, spreading Giardia, which has symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea and results in roughly 4,600 hospitalizations a year. Hepatitis A, which resulted in 20 deaths in a California outbreak in 2017, can be spread through water if it isn't treated. E. coli and cholera can also be transmitted via untreated water.

Because filtered, treated water has become the norm, Marler says, most people don't realize how dangerous "raw" water can be.

"The diseases that killed our great-grandparents were completely forgotten about," he said.

Most Americans don't personally know anyone who died of Hepatitis A or cholera, thanks to advances in technology and more stringent safety standards. As a result, they had a hard time realizing the risks involved in consuming untreated water.

"It's fine till some 10-year-old girl dies a horrible death from cholera in Montecito, California," Marler said.

According to Marler, the raw water trend is similar to people's obsession with raw milk or opposition to vaccines. While they lack scientific evidence, they are convinced that they are correct, in part because they have failed to see the repercussions of life without scientific advances.

"You can't stop consenting adults from being stupid," Marler said. "But, we should at least try."

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