Should We All Be Drinking 'raw' Water Straight From A Spring? That's The Latest Health Fad. ALICE HART DAVIS Was A Convert — Until She Sent Her 'deliciously Refreshing' Drink ...

By Alice Hart-davis For The Daily Mail 21:26 08 Apr 2018, updated 13:23 09 Apr 2018

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  • Alice Hart-Davis tried the growing American trend for drinking 'raw' water

  • Many claim water in its natural state is better for you than bottled or tap

  • Researches have discovered fragments of plastic in popular bottled waters 

  • The 'raw' water Alice tried at Barton Spring contained high levels of nitrate   

Holding my bottle under the little cascade of water emerging from the pipe set into the hillside, I feel strangely furtive — though there's no law against having a drink from a spring in the countryside. Yet even as I wonder 'Is this wise?' I am sure of one thing: I am tapping in to the very latest wellness trend.

Having found Barton Spring listed on, a website that lists hundreds of water sources around the world, I'd clambered up the path beside the stream from the small town of Barton-le-Clay, in Bedfordshire, slipping in the icy mud as I went. I was looking for raw water, which — after raw food and raw beauty — is the latest American health craze heading this way.


Glass jars of unfiltered, unsterilised spring water now sell for $36.99 (around £27) in some U.S. health food shops.

If you thought water was just, well, water, you're not alone.

But fans believe 'raw water' — water in its natural state when it emerges from the ground — is far better for you than either the treated stuff that comes out of your tap or, given what we now know about plastic contamination, bottled water.

Alice Hart-Davis (pictured) visited Barton Spring to try the increasing trend for 'raw' water. Researchers have recently revealed many bottle waters contain traces of plastic 

News last month that microplastics — tiny fragments of plastic — have been found in more than 90 per cent of popular brands of bottled water has left many people in a quandary about what we should be drinking.

The researchers examined 11 brands of water bought in nine countries, including big names such as Nestlé Pure Life, Aquafina, Evian, Dasani and San Pellegrino. They found that 93 per cent of the bottles contained some sort of microplastic, including polypropylene, polystyrene, nylon and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

(Some of the manufacturers whose products were tested questioned the accuracy of the tests, claiming they could result in false positives.)

It's unclear what is the effect of microplastics on human health, or how the plastic is getting into the bottled water — whether it is from the water source itself or during the bottling process.


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But Professor Sherri Mason, who carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York, said: 'Even the simple act of opening the cap could cause plastic to be chipping off the cap.' She suggests people choose not to buy water in a plastic bottle, but instead to carry a refillable bottle.

In Bedfordshire, I take her advice and fill my refillable bottle with raw water straight from the spring. It's fresh and very cold, but is it really safe? After all, it might be natural, but so are bacteria, good and bad.

Waterborne diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, which still kill 1.5 million people a year worldwide, are also natural. Of course, you're extremely unlikely to get these in the UK, though water from an unregulated source could contain anything from naturally occurring bacteria, or faecal bacteria, to traces of pesticides if these have been used on the surrounding land.

Raw water aficionados now share comments on websites such as A note from a former visitor to Barton Spring, which starts deep beneath the chalky hill in a national nature reserve, mentions a sign near the spring that says the water is unfit for human consumption.

A spokeswoman for DWI revealed there isn't any oestrogen in UK tap water. She claims conventional water treatment safeguards against it (file image)

I must have climbed the wrong way up the hill, as I couldn't see the sign, but it didn't seem to be putting off the locals. One passing jogger was filling up his bottle as we arrived.


'I don't know about raw, but it's as fresh as it comes,' says a chap walking past with his dog as I stoop down to drink. 'Everyone round here drinks it.' To be sure, I organise for a sample of Barton Spring water to be sent to ARA Environmental Ltd, a specialist water treatment company in Kent, to be tested.

As I wait for the results, I delve deeper into what exactly we should be drinking.

If you're a practical sort, you'll be wondering what on earth is wrong with tap water. But plenty of health obsessives object if you ask for tap water in a restaurant. 'Fluoride!', 'Chlorine!', 'Lead from old pipes', 'Oestrogen from all our birth control pills' goes the chorus.

Which all sounds terrifying, but is it true? 'No,' says a spokeswoman from the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), the body that polices drinking water quality in the UK. 'There is absolutely no oestrogen in tap water. That is a myth. Conventional water treatment is a very effective safeguard against this.'

I don't know about raw, but it's as fresh as it comes 

Drinking water is disinfected so that it can travel from a treatment plant to your tap uncontaminated. Often, this is done with chlorine, sometimes with UV filters — a process used to de-activate the bacteria within the water — or ozone, a gas found in the Earth's atmosphere.

Fluoride, so beloved of dentists because adding it to drinking water reduces the incidence of tooth decay, is naturally present at low levels in most drinking water in England and Wales — it's only added to around 10 per cent of the UK's drinking water.

But, according to the DWI, all of this is perfectly safe and carefully regulated.

'People get confused,' adds the spokeswoman, 'and the myths around drinking water are persistent. For example, a water company can't supply water out of a tap that contains any heavy metals. Your tap water is safe to drink.'

Yet, worryingly, an earlier international study involving tap water from around the world found 83 per cent of the samples showed contamination with plastic fibres — less in the UK (1.9 fibres per 500ml sample) than in the U.S. (4.8 fibres), but nonetheless alarming.

'It is a bit of a gap in our knowledge,' admits the spokeswoman. 'We are commissioning research that will address these issues. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also looking into this. There is no conclusive evidence of harm that we've seen so far.'

ARA Environmental Ltd revealed the water Alice (pictured) collected from Barton Springs contained high levels of  nitrite and nitrate

And then there's the question of asbestos fibres. Many old water pipes are made from asbestos cement — 29 per cent of the pipes in the village of Cranleigh, Surrey, where locals have raised concerns over this issue, are made from this. It is not a problem unless the pipes break, which they are more likely to do as they age.


'The Drinking Water Inspectorate accepts the expert view of the WHO that there is no consistent evidence asbestos fibres ingested in drinking water are hazardous to health,' says the DWI spokeswoman.

So, what about the bottled stuff? In the UK, most water sold in bottles is described as either 'mineral water' or 'spring water'. These are legal definitions that mean the stuff inside the bottles comes from a pure, protected source, where the water is safe to drink.

Government regulations dictate that these waters should already be so pure that they don't need treating to kill off any harmful bacteria. 'We do not use UV treatment here at Harrogate,' says Martin Turnbull, quality manager at Harrogate Spring Water, the Yorkshire-based brand.

It is certainly not in people's health interests to go in search of some unproven elixir in untreated water - GP Dr Ross Perry

'We are very proud about our spring water and the water quality at source is maintained during the bottling process.'

What all that means is that, in contrast to the U.S., where bottled water is all UV-treated and is criticised by the raw water lobby for being 'dead', UK spring and mineral water, which hasn't been treated in this way, is mostly very much 'live' and so might plausibly be described as 'raw'. Both our mineral and spring would be deemed 'raw' by the raw water movement, as they contain the natural minerals and bacteria with which they emerged from the ground.

But that's not stopping purists from heading to the springs.

Down at Plaw Hatch Farm, near East Grinstead, Sussex, Jenny Wright, who runs the farm shop, has never heard the term 'raw water', but she is aware of the popularity of the water that comes out of the tap on the wall outside the shop.

The water is from a nearby spring popular since Victorian times and has always been natural and untreated. 'We have a lot of people coming for the water because it is straight out of the ground,' she says.

She adds: 'We offer it free of charge, but some people give donations. It has a lovely flavour, very clean and pure, and we have had customers coming to get it for years. I know there's nothing wrong with tap water, but people are very sensitive to the chlorine in tap water and our customers want to make their own decisions about what they drink.'

Ironically, recent tests on the water by the local authority showed eyebrow-raising levels of bacteria so, reluctantly, a UV filter has been added to improve its quality. 'Our customers would prefer it was as nature intended,' says Jenny, 'but we need to comply with legislation.'

So, is raw water just a fad?

'I feel it's a trend that plays on people's paranoia about water supplies,' says GP Dr Ross Perry. 'The water we drink is perfectly safe. You don't get people falling ill from drinking tap water in the UK. You do abroad.

'But it is certainly not in people's health interests to go in search of some unproven elixir in untreated water, where risks outweigh any potential benefits.'

I brought home my raw water from Barton Spring and let it warm up to room temperature for a taste test. It was delicious, as smooth as Evian, but much fresher-tasting than either my chlorinated London tap water or the filtered version of it that I usually drink. Have I found the holy grail of waters?

The results are in from ARA Environmental Ltd. The Barton sample meets drinking water standards in terms of its microbiological quality: the levels of bacteria are low. The levels of lead, iron, nickel and copper are also fine.

But, to my dismay, the nitrite and nitrate content in the sample exceed the recommended levels for drinking water (ammonium is on the very upper limit, too). The source of these is likely run-off from fertiliser, suspects ARA director Peter Richards.

Gulp. So would, er, one glass of this stuff harm you? It probably should be fine, 'but if you were to drink it all the time, I think it might have some effects'. He won't speculate on exactly what, but the Drinking Water Inspectorate says very high amounts of nitrate can affect the absorption of oxygen into the blood in young children — sometimes fatally.


So, no, raw water is one health trend I won't be swallowing. For now, I'll stay loyal to my tap.

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Should we all be drinking 'raw' water straight from a spring?
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