One of the main concerns about water-powered sump pumps, besides the un-necessary waste of fresh drinking water, is the potential health hazard they possess.
Since all water-powered pumps must be connected directly to the fresh water supply of the house, they must have backflow protection.
Should there be a loss of positive water pressure coming from the water supply, water flow can reverse and flow from the home and rush backwards into the water pipes of the home – in other words; the potential exists for contaminated water being sucked back into the fresh water drinking supply, causing a substantial health risk for people that use a water driven pump.
This report for the EPA “A Citizens Guide to Ground Water Protection” clearly identifies the many contaminates found in groundwater that gets pushed into sump pits during storms, snowmelt, lawn irrigation etc…the following excerpts are from the report.
How Does Ground Water Become Contaminated?
Ground-water contamination can originate on the surface of the ground, in the ground above the water table, or in the ground below the water table.
What Kinds of Substances Can Contaminate Ground Water, and Where Do They Come From?
Substances that can contaminate ground water can be divided into two basic categories: substances that occur naturally and substances produced or introduced by man’s activities. Substances that occur naturally include minerals such as iron, calcium, and selenium. Substances resulting from man’s activities include synthetic organic chemicals and hydrocarbons (e.g., solvents, pesticides, petroleum products); landfill leachates (liquids that have dripped through the landfill and carry dissolved substances from the waste materials), containing such substances as heavy metals and organic decomposition products; salt; bacteria; and viruses. A significant number of today’s ground-water contamination problems stem from man’s activities and can be introduced into ground water from a variety of sources.
Septic Tanks, Cesspools, and Privies
A major cause of ground-water contamination in many areas of the United States is effluent, or outflow, from septic tanks, cesspools, and privies. Approximately one fourth of all homes in the United States rely on septic systems to dispose of their human wastes. If these systems are improperly sited, designed, constructed, or maintained, they can allow contamination of the ground water by bacteria, nitrates, viruses, synthetic detergents, household chemicals, and chlorides.
Although each system can make an insignificant contribution to ground water contamination, the sheer number of such systems and their wide spread use in every area that does not have a public sewage treatment system makes them serious contamination sources.
Another potentially significant source of ground-water contamination is the more than 180,000 surface impoundments (e.g., ponds, lagoons) used by municipalities, industries, and businesses to store, treat, and dispose of a variety of liquid wastes and wastewater Although these impoundments are supposed to be sealed with compacted clay soils or plastic liners, leaks can and do develop.
Agricultural activities also can make significant contributions to ground-water contamination with the millions of tons of fertilizers and pesticides spread on the ground and from the storage and disposal of livestock wastes. Homeowners, too, can contribute to this type of ground-water pollution with the chemicals they apply to their lawns, rosebushes, tomato plants, and other garden plants.
There are approximately 500 hazardous waste land disposal facilities and more than 16,000 municipal and other landfills nationwide.
Underground Storage Tanks
Between five and six million underground storage tanks are used to store a variety of materials, including gasoline, fuel oil, and numerous chemicals. The average life span of these tanks is 18 years, and over time, exposure to the elements causes them to corrode. Now, hundreds of thousands of these tanks are estimated to be leaking, and many are contaminating ground water.
A similar flushing mechanism also applies to the salt that is used to de-ice roads and highways throughout the country every winter More than 11 million tons of salt are applied to roads in the United States annually, As ice and snow melt or rain subsequently falls, the salt is washed into the surrounding soil where it can work its way down to the ground water. Salt also can find its way into ground water from improperly protected storage stockpiles.
From this report it’s easy to see the many ways ground water becomes contaminated, it’s easy to see how common man-made chemicals such as soap, bleach or drain opener can find their way into groundwater. Plus, storm drains carry runoff from lawns, driveways and streets. The runoff could contain pesticides, chemicals used to enhance lawn growth, oil, brake fluid or gasoline.
On top of that, natural bacteria found in sewage pose the greatest health risk and minerals such as iron, calcium, and selenium can also naturally be found in ground water.
The bottom line is, water-powered sump pumps MUST ALWAYS be hooked up with the proper backflow device. When the backflow device is improperly hooked up or even worse, if a homeowner forgets to do this or omits this step, in times of a back-pressure situation, (water main break, flushing the hydrants, local fire where the hydrants are tapped by the fire department etc…) this contaminated water can be sucked back into the fresh drinking water supply exposing the homeowner and his or her family to serious illness.