Even crystal-clear, clean-smelling water can contain millions of tiny...
Since the invention of the video camera, humans have been using this technology to record themselves doing dumb things. Just look at the success of shows like Jackass, and you'll see that filming these dangerous acts can be a very profitable enterprise (as long as the medical bills don't exceed earnings). Of course, it's not hard to see that hurting yourself on camera can also result in lasting injury (and/or dead brain cells), so the paycheck doesn't exactly seem worth it to us.
On top of this, filming and distributing stupid or dangerous acts might lead others to follow in your footsteps, no matter how many times you say “don't try this at home”. If you want to do something irresponsible, so be it—but at least try not to drag anyone else down with you. That's how we see it, at least.
Recently, we came across a video that demonstrates two popular YouTube hosts—Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning—drinking gross liquids through LifeStraws. Uninformed individuals may hear this and think, “the LifeStraw is made to purify dirty water, right?” It certainly is, but it also has its limitations.
The LifeStraw filter removes waterborne bacteria, protozoa, and other dirt and particulates larger than 0.02 microns. We own several LifeStraw products, and have used them repeatedly over the years. These lightweight filters are quite good at removing bacteria and protozoa, so please don't think that our criticisms below have anything to do with the device itself. This is a clear case of user error.
However, like many other hollow fiber water filters, the LifeStraw does not remove toxic chemicals, heavy metals (such as lead and mercury), or viruses. These are all things that tend to be rare in natural fresh water sources, but can be found in water that has been contaminated by industrial byproducts or human waste.
Despite this fact, here are some of the things the hosts of Good Mythical Morning chose to drink through their LifeStraws on camera:
We'll reiterate: drinking piss, raw sewage, or industrial runoff through a water purifier is a REALLY DUMB IDEA, especially when it's done just for laughs. Don't ever try it.
If you'd like, you can watch the video below. In less than a week, the viral video (no pun intended) has already generated over 3.5 million views. However, we'd caution you not to imitate or encourage any of the behavior seen here.
The video starts out tame, by drinking some dirty bath water through the LifeStraw. This is probably safe, unless the bathers have open wounds or extremely dirty skin. Rating: Probably OK
Next, the hosts drink water from the Los Angeles River, which is known to have a history of pollution (something the video hosts themselves are clearly aware of). Some might choose this as a last resort in a survival situation, but it likely contains traces of industrial pollutants and pesticide runoff that even the best filters can't remove. Water collected from a major city's drainage system may also contain traces of sewage, and therefore has a chance of being contaminated with viruses like Hepatitis A (although this is unlikely in the USA). Drinking this through a filter may be acceptable in a true survival scenario, but it shouldn't be your first choice, and it's certainly not something that should be done as a joke. Rating: Bad Idea
Then the hosts get to the main event: drinking each other's urine. Despite what you may have seen on some extreme survival TV shows, drinking urine is really stupid. Human urine has a high salt content of approximately 2 percent, compared to seawater's 3.5 percent. This number can rise dramatically as the body becomes dehydrated. Therefore, most sources (including the U.S. Army Survival Manual 3-05.70) recommend against drinking urine under any circumstances.
The only way pee might be worth drinking is after removing everything but the pure water through distillation (i.e. using an alcohol still or solar still). A LifeStraw cannot possibly remove things like the high levels of salt, uric acid, and other chemicals your body is trying to get rid of. Drinking substantial amounts of urine—even through a LifeStraw—can lead to severe dehydration and organ failure. Rating: Extremely Bad Idea
To verify these statements, we reached out to LifeStraw's parent company, Vestergaard, for a response to this video. Meryl Rader, communications director at Vestergaard, had this to say:
“LifeStraw does not remove dissolved salts and was not designed to be used to drink urine. It was designed for natural disasters and removing pathogenic, microbiological contaminants from water. Drinking urine, with or without a LifeStraw, is not something that we encourage. Whether or not drinking urine in small amounts is high or low risk is a question best asked to a physician.”
Finally, the pièce de résistance from this video: cat feces in water. This water is guaranteed to contain a variety of bacteria and protozoa, which should be mostly removed by the LifeStraw. However, it could also contain various harmful chemicals and inorganic solids, or even the Rabies virus (which is unlikely, but has an almost 100% fatality rate if contracted and left untreated). Since the solid matter in feces is 25 to 50 percent bacteria by volume, they're basically drinking a microorganism smoothie to see what happens. Brilliant. Rating: Bad Idea
The moral of the story is that the LifeStraw and other water purifiers are not toys. Just like you wouldn't go play Russian roulette with a loaded revolver, or juggle needles loaded with infectious diseases, you shouldn't play around with a device that's designed to protect you from serious illness. You certainly shouldn't use it improperly on purpose, and you absolutely should not imply to others that this is acceptable behavior.
Look, we're not trying to be buzzkills here. We get that this YouTube channel is all about fooling around in a humorous manner, and we don't usually have a problem with comedy videos. However, this is a video that has been seen by millions of viewers—many of whom are likely too young or impressionable to know the danger of imitating its content. It lacks an adequate warning about the real dangers of drinking dirty water, and to top it off, it's (jokingly) posed as survival advice by the hosts:
Rhett: “We asked you to ask us questions about survival, because we know how to survive around here.”
Link: “Yeah we do!”
At the end of the day, it doesn't seem very funny to drink contaminated water as a joke, when waterborne diseases are the number one cause of death worldwide according to the World Health Organization. In our opinion, it seems distasteful, and it makes a mockery of those who need to use products like the LifeStraw to stay healthy.
It's also already causing misconceptions about water purification to be spread by other web sites. Don't take our word for it, just look at this Attn.com article titled, “Invention Allows You to Drink Your Pee Safely”. Despite the obvious scientific fact that a LifeStraw does not make urine remotely safe to drink (and was never designed to do so), this video has directly resulted in the spread of this dangerous claim online, and that's truly unacceptable.