International Conference on Rain Water Cistern Systems
USA - June 1982
4: Water Quality
Occurrence of Selected
Heavy Metals in Rural Roof-Catchment Cistern Systems
E. Sharpe & Edward S. Young
The Pennsylvania State University, USA
Roof-catchment cistern systems consist of a roof, usually the house roof, which
serves as an impervious catchment for precipitation, and a cistern to store the
collected water. The stored water is pumped from the cistern to points of use
within the house. Very little is known about the prevalence of this type of water
supply in the United States or the quality of drinking water obtained from such
systems. A recent paper by Kincaid (1979) cites Ohio Department of Health records
that reported a total of 67,000 cistern systems in the state of Ohio alone. A
company owned and operated by Mr. Kincaid specializes in providing service to
cistern owners in Ohio. The company handles approximately 800 requests for assistance
each year and provides specialized water treatment equipment to its customers.
Since mot of this equipment is designed to remove particulates and disinfect cistern
water, it may be concluded that these are important cistern water quality problems.
However, the relatively new phenomenon of acid rain (Cogbill and Likens 1974).
and the deposition of toxic metals such as lead (Lazrus et al. 1979; Hutchinson
1973) in roof-catchment cistern systems have not been previous investigated.
Roof-catchment cisterns are common in regions of the United States where groundwater
supplies are either unavailable or unusable. Cisterns are present in the coal
mining regions of Pennsylvania where ground water has been polluted by mining
and public water supplies are unavailable. Additional concentrations of these
systems occur where groundwater has not been successfully developed and surface
water sources are either polluted or nonexistent. The former case generally prevails
in rural areas of Clarion on and Indiana Counties, Pennsylvania and in much of
Although each cistern system was unique, most cisterns were constructed of
concrete or cinderblock coated with a waterproof cement-base sealant. Sixteen
of the 40 systems evaluated in 1980 incorporated sand and gravel filters to remove
particulates from incoming precipitation. In those systems with sand and gravel
filters, CaC03 may have also been added as the precipitation passed through the
A study was designed to survey water quality in roof-catchment cistern water
systems to determine the occurrences of the toxic metals, lead, cadmium and copper.
A related objective involved the evaluation of the corrosivity of the water being
collected and stored in roof-catchment water systems and its relationship to plumbing
type, cistern construction materials and water treatment devices.
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