Not on tap: ‘Raw water’ could transmit potentially deadly pathogens: experts warn

TORONTO — Drinking “raw water” collected from springs and other so-called pure sources appears to be a growing natural health craze in the U.S. — and one in the era of social media that could quickly find its way to Canada.

But public health experts advise Canadians against embracing the raw water fad, saying untreated water can carry a host of micro-organisms that may cause severe illness and even death.

“There’s a long human history of consuming raw water over millennia and centuries and that has resulted in numerous documented outbreaks of serious infectious diseases and fatalities,” Dr. Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health at Public Health Ontario, said Friday.

“And I’m puzzled as to why, given the benefit we have of adequate disinfection and safe water today, that people would want to go back to consuming water that hasn’t been treated and may be a source of serious infection.”

The New York Times recently reported on a number of U.S. companies supplying raw water, which adherents argue is “healthier” than tap or bottled water because it doesn’t contain fluoride and retains beneficial minerals and “good” bacteria, which would otherwise be removed through filtration or disinfection methods.

Among the start-ups promoting living off the water grid is San Francisco-based Live Water, which delivers untreated water to customers sourced from Opal Spring in Madras, Ore., according to the company’s website. Raw water from various U.S. suppliers isn’t cheap, selling for up to US$70 for a 9.5-litre jug.

However, Copes said water taken directly from nature can contain bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter, along with such parasites as cryptosporidium and giardia.

Such disease-causing microbes are shed by domestic animals like cattle and sheep, as well as by wild animals, contaminating surface water that can lead to disease outbreaks in people.

“We have to be aware that there are many species out there that are defecating, that are emptying the contents of their enteric tracts onto the land and into the water,” he said.

“That is why for any surface water, we have to assume that micro-organisms may be present that could create serious infectious disease.”

A case in point is the May 2000 outbreak in Walkerton, Ont., of E. coli 0157:H7, a virulent strain that sickened about 2,500 residents and killed seven as the result of a contaminated water supply. The E. coli is believed to have originated in seeping groundwater adulterated by cattle at nearby farms.

In 1996, cryptosporidium sickened about 2,000 people in Cranbrook, B.C. An outbreak in Kelowna, B.C., weeks later caused an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people to become ill with the gastrointestinal illness caused by the parasite.

A cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee in 1993 made about 400,000 ill and left 100 people dead.

Contaminated wells and groundwater are also responsible for hundreds of boil-water advisories in effect in remote communities across Canada, some of which have been in place for decades.

Jan Sargeant, director of the Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses at the University of Guelph in southwestern Ontario, said micro-organisms are always a concern when drinking “raw” water.

“Most of these pathogens are from fecal contamination … from a human or livestock source,” Sargeant said in an emailed interview. “Even the most pristine water could be contaminated from wildlife feces.”

For instance, giardia — also known as ”beaver fever” — has been known to infect campers and canoeists who drink from lakes and rivers, she noted.

And while some people prefer the taste of untreated water, Sargeant doesn’t believe it’s healthier.

“Municipalities treat their drinking water for a reason — and that is to make it safer.”

Just Posted

Growing drug-fuelled emergencies at Red Deer’s Buffalo transitional housing complex

City council approves two additional mental health staffers at complex

‘We’re going to have a deal very soon’: Staff briefed on possible ServiCom buyer

SYDNEY, N.S. — The sudden closure of a Cape Breton call centre… Continue reading

Equalization protests from Alberta likely pre-election talk: Quebec minister

OTTAWA — Quebec’s finance minister brushed off complaints from Alberta on Monday… Continue reading

Car thefts on rise in Canada as thieves target trucks, SUVs: insurance board

TORONTO — A new report says choosy car thieves are setting their… Continue reading

Fenced-off SCS site development approved by Red Deer city council for seven years

‘Sunset clause’ means a new permit will be needed in 2025

Orlando SC acquires Canadian Tesho Akindele in trade with FC Dallas for cash

ORLANDO, Fla. — Canadian forward Tesho Akindele was traded to Orlando City… Continue reading

Koskinen notches third shutout, McDavid gets winner as Oilers blank Flames 1-0

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers appear to have shored up their defence… Continue reading

Beyonce performs at pre-wedding party in India

Beyonce brought her star power to a pre-wedding party for the daughter… Continue reading

Kirk Douglas celebrates 102nd birthday

LOS ANGELES — Actor Kirk Douglas got to celebrate his 102nd birthday… Continue reading

Ellen Page steps up attack on Nova Scotia pulp mill’s effluent pipeline

HALIFAX — Hollywood actor Ellen Page is doubling down on her criticism… Continue reading

Pence aide out of running to be Trump’s next chief of staff

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff… Continue reading

Swath of South faces wintry mess: Snow, sleet, freezing rain

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A massive storm brought snow, sleet, and freezing rain… Continue reading

‘I killed my best friend’: Opioids’ fatal grip on mayor, pal

MOUNT CARBON, Pa. — Janel Firestone found her son — the 24-year-old,… Continue reading

Most Read