Experts are cautioning Kiwis against diving into the world’s latest natural health craze – untreated, unfiltered “raw” water.

In some parts of the US, there’s been a drive in alternative health circles to “get off the water grid” and drink spring water that hadn’t been filtered, treated, or even sterilised. One San Francisco grocery store was even selling 9 litre orbs of the water – claiming it had “a vaguely mild sweetness, a nice smooth mouth feel, nothing that overwhelms the flavour profile” – for NZ$50 each. There doesn’t appear to be any companies following suit here, but scientists have warned Kiwis not to try sourcing their own – and stick to their town supply.

“Consuming untreated water is like driving your car without wearing a safety belt – you might get away with it, but you are taking an unnecessary risk,” said Michael Baker, a professor of public health at Otago University in Wellington.

New Zealand surface water was heavily contaminated with microbes that could cause sickness – among them protozoa such as giardia and cryptosporidia, or bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter. There are also increasing cases of serious, and occasionally fatal, shiga-toxin producing E. coli infections, Bakers said.

“From a health and sustainability perspective, the science supports use of treated, fluoridated, reticulated water supplies as the main source of drinking water in most situations.

“There are of course exceptional circumstances where people need to use alternatives, such as boiled water if local water treatment is inadequate – which may for example occur when water treatment systems are overwhelmed by heavy rainfall events.”

Baker dismissed claims by producers of raw water being superior to properly treated water as “idiotic”.

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