Friday, January 4, 2013

Danger to child health from rainwater collection systems

How safe is rain water collected from roof catchment and collection systems?  Special caution should be used when considering rain water collected from roofs for food consumption by children and for use in gardens for food consumption by children.  Children's EPA advises that parents and child care and education providers use expert material safety and health advice before using roof water for consumption by children or for use in gardens intended for food consumption by children.

Roofing materials contain environmental hazards and toxins which can leach into rain water or drain off roofs into rain water catchments systems.  Environmental hazards include bacteria and parasites from small animals and animal poop, such as birds and rodents, and algae.  Toxins are present in roof materials manufactured with wide range of toxins which when new or weakened by weather elements and age can leach into rain water and drain with rain water into water catchment systems.

The following is a sample of information available on toxicity of rain water from roof catchment systems.
1. Ashalt Shingles 
Rainwater collected off an asphalt shingle roof may contain lead and arsenic. 
Asphalt shingles contain harmful contaminants such as PAHs. Rainwater that flows off rooftops may also contain toxic elements, such as lead and arsenic. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more research is needed to determine concentration levels and toxicity effects on humans and animals. Read more: Toxicity of Asphalt Roof Shingles |

2. Wood Shingles
Rain water collected off wood shingled roofs may contain objectionable taste, odor and toxic chemicals from wood treatments and natural toxins.

If an old roof is used as the catchment area, if it is under tree branches, if the building relies on wood heat, or if the air is too polluted, you need to be wary of elevated contaminant or toxin levels. Roofs with wood shakes, concrete or clay tiles, or asphalt shingles can support unwanted biological growth, such as mold or bacteria, that will require adequate treatment. Some materials, such as terne coating, lead solder, or treated wood, can leach unwanted toxins. (again, the entire url needs to be copied into the browser)  (this URL is no longer active – more or less replaced by the one below)
Check the composition and condition of the roof and/or drainage system, and the intended use of the water. Drinking water requires a leach-free metal or fiberglass roof and drainage system in addition to filtration or other purifying components. The majority of the components simply bolt-on. A roof-wash system, for instance, is relatively easy to attach to a gutter.  
Article source:
 All types of roofing can result in bacteria and parasites running off into rain water and rain water catchment systems.  
Bird poop. I got up on my roof this summer and actually looked for bird poop after two months without a drop of rain. I found about three small spots. If you don't have wires hanging over your roof, you probably don't have much either. Just let a good rain run about 15 minutes to wash the roof, and you should be in pretty good shape.

Raccoons and skunks are the biggest worry. About 68 to 82% of raccoons (and an unknown % of skunks) carry a parasite called Baylisascaris, a type of roundworm which can be transmitted to humans if they ingest the eggs or through skin contact with the feces. The damage can be severe, leading to death, and there is no reliable treatment. Once the eggs harden, they are practically impervious to extreme heat, cold and many chemicals, and will remain viable for years. Read more:
For safety of rain water collected from other types of roofing materials, purification, and safe use consult environmental and chemical safety information from reliable sources.  
Children are more vulnerable than adults to harm from environmental and chemical hazards because they are smaller in weight, their organs are still developing, and their increased consumption per weight. Even the the US EPA recognized children's vulnerability, there are no infant or child safety standards set by U.S. government agencies and most other countries.  The responsibility for child safety therefore falls upon the adult, the parent, child care provider, and eduation providers.  Although a product may be considered "safe" or within safe limits for an adult, children can be seriously injured at levels deemed safe.
Teaching children to conserve water through use of rain water collection systems is important, but that is only half their lesson.  Children must also be taught that they are more vulnerable than adults to harm from water that may contain toxins, bacteria, and parasites and the safe use of water from water conservation systems.  Please view the following video and read the materials about this event then determine if these children knew the risk of toxins in their rain water collection system. 

Published on Dec 9, 2012
The Republic of Yemen Government (RoYG) and the U.S. government (USG) highlighted the importance of water conservation at a Dec. 5 event to celebrate 25 schools that have already received or will receive rainwater harvesting systems. The rooftop water catchments and tanks are used for school gardens and latrines, and to teach students about water conservation and the usefulness of harvesting rainwater.

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