Tag Archives: Raw

Water.

Raw water is the latest 2018 craze — and it’s absolutely stupid

Looking for a novel way to show off how special sorry, health-conscious you are? You’re in luck because “raw water” is now on the shelves, promising to bring none of the safety of tap water at a much higher cost.

Oregon Trail.

Image via Internet Archive.

Some days, science journalism is all about stuff like finding out how the Universe started, trying to teach robots to love, or uncovering Aztec shrines nestled in the belly of volcanoes. Other days, it’s about telling people not to eat their own placenta. Today, sadly, it’s about discussing whether or not it’s a good idea to drink your water out of a stream like cave people, as a growing number of Americans peppered across the country (mostly West Coasters) are saying nay to the tap and yay to the raw — raw water, to be exact.

This ‘mildly sweet’, unfiltered, untreated water is $36.99 on a 2.5-gallon because it’s pumped straight out of a ‘natural source’. You know, unlike all other water out there, which is … produced at a factory in China? I don’t even know.

Those who sell it hold that all this virginal unprocessed-ness is super good for you. Oregon Trail tells me it’ll probably give you dysentery by day 28. We must still be a few turns short, because according to an article published in the New York Times last week, raw water is making a killing (hopefully not literally). Of course, primarily in Silicon Valley.

#nofilter

Adherents of what Trisha Kuhlmey, owner of San Diego water store Liquid Eden, dubbed the “water consciousness movement”, share in a distrust of tap water. Among their biggest gripes with this most foul of brews are added fluoride, chloramine, and the lead pipes that it’s forced through. Another point of worry is that the filtration systems currently employed in the US are the (very vaguely-termed) wrong ones, and remove beneficial minerals. Bottled water, and I’m paraphrasing here, has all its health-promoting bacteria, or “probiotics”, nuked out of it since it’s treated with ultraviolet light or ozone before filtering to remove algae.

Raw water, on the other hand, has none of these issues. It doesn’t flow through municipal pipes, doesn’t have anything added to it, isn’t filtered in any way. Straight out of Mother Nature’s tit. Surely then it’s good for you, right? I mean, this guy sounds like he knows what he’s talking about:

“Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” Mr. Singh, founder of raw water shipping company Live Water, told the New York Times. “Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.”

Water.

Take a moment to enjoy this calming water shot after reading that. Because we care here for your mental well-being at ZME Sciece.
Image via Pixabay.

Unlike Mr. Singh, nature actually knows what she’s talking about. Mother Nature also doesn’t care. She wouldn’t budge a proton if some humans died a horrible death via parasites, pathogens, or toxins because they drank out of a river. It’s called natural selection and she eats that for breakfast.

We filter and treat drinking water because it’s dangerous not to. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists contaminated drinking water as one of the leading causes of deadly preventable health risks in the world. “Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio,” they explain, estimating that it causes some 502,000 diarrheal deaths around the world each year.

No matter how crystal-clear the spring, it can still carry nasty contaminants, according to Vince Hill, chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

“There are many sources of water contamination, and some of those sources are naturally occurring,” Hill said in an interview with Live Science. “Spring water and mountain stream water may look pure, but it can be contaminated with things like bacteria and viruses, parasites and other contaminants that you can’t see.”

“We recommend filtering and disinfecting [untreated water] to make it safe,” he later told the Times.

The EPA enforces a very arduous purification process including filtration, sedimentation (letting impurities settle down) and disinfection on America’s public water providers. Its exact steps vary from town to town (since they get water from different sources), but all are designed to eradicate the 90 most common contaminants from water.

It’s so important to do it right that they’ll show up unannounced to take samples and check that everything is up to requirements. That’s why every time you turn the tap for a drink you don’t have to ask “hmm, will this refresh me or infect me with something horrible?”

cholera_bacteria_nise-1

Hello, my name is Vibrio cholerae and you, my drinker, are in for a really crappy time. Pun intended.
Image credits NISE.

Natural chemical contaminants include arsenic and radon, elements embedded in soils and rocks that really like to pass through to groundwater bodies without many indications. Both elements become poisonous in large enough doses. Parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium (two of the most common causes of waterborne diseases in the US) have no problem passing from animal feces into the water. Other tasty things you can get from drinking contaminated water are typhoid fever, hepatitis A, SARS, and cholera, which has the distinction of being “one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known.”

Most of these diseases spread through water contaminated with feces. And yes, wild animals will go number two near or even in the most pristine raw water stream out there. Nature doesn’t care.

Waterier than thou

In the end, it’s extremely infuriating to see people that have one of the most robust drinking water systems in the world go out and drink from streams just because some guy wants to sell water at $40 a bottle. It’s discouraging to see citizens in one of the world’s richest countries kick all that away and expose themselves to the same dangers children in Africa are forced to bear just to feel better than their peers.

It’s the same “I know better” fallacy that rears its ugly head whenever a soccer-mom says no to vaccines or some dude says the world is flat. It has the same reek of conspiracy-prone ignorance that points at planes and bellows “CHEMTRAILS”, it chimes the same tune of cognitive dissonance in “guns don’t kill people”.

And it’s monetized in the hands of people like Mr. Singh who, when asked why not use an osmosis filter — which literally filters water molecule by molecule — to clean his drink instead, replied with gems such as:

“You’re going to get 99% of the bad stuff out […] But now you have dead water.”

“Real water [should expire after a few months, and his water] stays most fresh within one lunar cycle of delivery. If it sits around too long, it’ll turn green. People don’t even realize that because all their water’s dead, so they never see it turn green.”

I can feel my chakras vibrating already.

Do you want to drink raw water? Trade places with one kid whose life inches on the brink because he’s only had raw his whole life and drink your fill.

Even ubiquitous iron could run short.

We may face a huge shortage of essential raw materials stiffling green energy if governments don’t step up their game

An international team of researchers led by Saleem Ali, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and Environment at the University of Delaware, warns that greater international political and scientific cooperation is needed to secure the resources we’ll need in the future.

Even ubiquitous iron could run short.

Even ubiquitous iron could run short.
Image credits nightowl / Pixabay.

To say that humanity today faces some challenges would be an understatement. Political unrest, climate change, income inequality, drug resistance, they all add up. Still, as a species, we’ve shown a knack for eventually overcoming all the problems that’ve been thrown our way — be them by chance or our own hand. All we need is enough time to think about a solution and enough stuff to put it together and voila! Progress.

But we may be soon running short on the second part, the raw materials, an international team of researchers warns. They say that greater international transparency and a free exchange of geophysical data between countries is needed to secure the future’s supply of raw minerals.

What’s (low) on the menu

The team includes members from the academic, industrial, and government sectors in institutions throughout the U.S., South America, Europe, South Africa, and Australia. They are primarily concerned with future supply of a wide range of technology minerals, which are indispensable in all kinds of industries — from copper wiring in homes or laptop batteries all the way to solar panels and superdense batteries for electric cars. However, they say there’s also cause for concern regarding base metals such as copper or iron ore.

“There are treaties on climate change, biodiversity, migratory species and even waste management of organic chemicals, but there is no international mechanism to govern how mineral supply should be coordinated,” said Ali, who is the paper’s lead author.

They looked at demand records and forecasts, as well as estimates of the sustainability of mineral supplies in the coming decades. They write that current mining operations won’t be able to keep up with the rise in demand, especially considering the fact that “implementation of the Paris Agreement requires technologies that utilize a wide range of minerals in vast quantities.” When push comes to shove, no matter how green our policy and technology gets, if we can’t build it and field it, it won’t do us much good. So we need to up our extraction game.

“Metal recycling and technological change will contribute to sustaining supply, but mining must continue and grow for the foreseeable future to ensure that such minerals remain available to industry,” they conclude.

The materials required for the transition to a low-carbon economy, the stuff that goes into manufacturing clean tech, will be particularly tricky, the researchers say. While base materials are used extensively in current economies –so it’s only a matter of expanding on well-established methods and deposits –traditionally there hasn’t been a wide-scale demand of the more exotic minerals required for clean energy sources, leaving society ill-equipped to meet the extra demand for these materials.

Neodymium is used to make the strongest permanent magnets we know of.

Neodymium is used to make the strongest permanent magnets we know of.
Image credits Brett Jordan / Flickr.

We’ll have to both find suitable deposits and develop more efficient methods of extracting, refining, and handling these elements. Metals like neodymium, terbium, or iridium, although only needed in small quantities, can’t be substituted for anything else in certain clean energy applications and other advanced tech. So while they seem to only make up a tiny part of the overall requirements, they are vital for future applications. A bottleneck in terms of material production for these vital minerals would bottleneck development of the industry and ultimately energy production.

According to the team, the best way to prevent this is to work together. International coordination is needed to determine where to focus future exploration efforts, what areas are likely to be rich or poor in which resources and thus what kind of economic agreements are needed between different countries to make sure that there aren’t any deficiencies anywhere.

Supply and demand

Those of you who think laissez-faire systems are the bee’s knees are probably prickling in horror at the mere thought of international government meddling in the market. But the team points out that the forces which dictate the prices of major commodity minerals don’t (currently) apply to rare earths and other technology minerals.

For example, the largest percentage of exploration investment in a single mineral is in gold, which although highly profitable, is largely used for jewelry. It, along with other major commodity metals such as copper or iron ore are sold on a global market the same way grain or oil is, a market which fluctuates according to supply and demand. But rare earth metals and other technology minerals, however, are sold through individual dealers and prices can vary wildly between them.

Even more, the UN expects global population to reach about 8.5 billion by 2030, which means more demand for these substances in the next decade or so. For your run of the mill goods, take clothes or newspapers, a growth in demand (reflected in a greater price) is swiftly and easily followed by an increase in production. But mineral supply doesn’t follow that same relationship to demand, because of the huge spans of time required to get an exploitation up and running — the horizon for developing a rare earth mineral deposit, from exploration and subsequent discovery to actually mining the thing, is 10 to 15 years, the team says.

Rare earth elements are usually produced as oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.

Rare earth elements are usually produced as oxides. Clockwise from top center: praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, samarium, and gadolinium.
Image credits Peggy Greb, US department of agriculture / Wikimedia.

Considering that only about 10% or early exploration efforts result in a mineable deposit, the outlook is even bleaker. Most deposits prospectors find simply aren’t big enough or concentrated enough to be economically viable. Companies can also have a lot of trouble getting exploitation rights or run into zoning problems due to geopolitical factors.

“Countries where minerals are likely to be found may have poor governance, making it higher risk for supply. But production from these countries will be needed to meet global demand. We need to be thinking about this,” Ali said.

The authors also warn that for many of the minerals their paper calls into discussion, there aren’t any substitutes. With so few commercially viable alternatives even for the humble copper wire, it’s simply a matter of produce enough stuff or run short.

Ali and his team hope that the paper will form the foundation of an intergovernmental framework or another similar system which would allow countries to plan and prevent mineral scarcity in the future — as both private and public sectors are dependent on raw materials. They say that quick improvements can be made through expansion of developing organizations, such as the United Nation’s International Resource Panel or the Canadian-led Intergovernmental Panel on Mining Metals and Sustainable Development. Longer-term solutions will need greater international transparency and could include global sharing of geological data and the creation of mechanisms to protect mineral deposit ‘finds’ much like we protect intellectual property.

“It’s about managing the flow of resources from the ground to product to consumer to recycling,” Ali said.

“People have been so concerned about climate change that it’s created a real movement around it. We don’t see this around resource use and recovery, even though it is much closer to us on a daily basis.”

The full paper “Mineral supply for sustainable development requires resource governance” has been published in the journal Nature.