What is Copper?

Copper is a reddish metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements.

It is found in soil, water and rock.  Being a soft metal, copper is easily shaped and flexible. It is commonly used to electrical wiring and widely used in household plumbing material. Copper compounds are also used as an agricultural pesticide, and to control algae in lakes and reservoirs.

Copper also occurs naturally in plants and animals. It is an essential element for all known living organisms, including humans. However, very large single or long-term intakes of copper may harm your health.

What are the Health Effects?

Copper in our diet is a necessary metal for overall health. The National Academy of Science recommends 2-3 mg of copper in the daily diet. Drinking water normally contributes approximately 150 ug/day.

High doses of copper, for example a dose of 15 mg can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and intestinal cramps. Cases of copper poisoning have led to anemia and to the disruption of liver and kidney functions. Immediate effects from drinking water extremely elevated levels of copper include:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea

The seriousness of these effects will worsen with increased copper levels or length of time of exposure.

How Does Copper Get Into My Water And How Do I Get It Out?

Copper levels found naturally in groundwater and surface water are generally very low; approximately 4 ug of copper in one liter. However, drinking water may contain higher levels of a dissolved form of copper.

Increased  levels of copper can occur when corrosive water comes in contact with copper plumbing in the water supply system. If corrosive water sits in the plumbing system for six hours or more, copper levels may exceed 1,000 ug/l.

Treatment Options For Copper In Drinking Water

If the copper in your drinking water is from your internal plumbing, flushing the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking is a typical option.  If a faucet has not been used for several hours, running the water for about 2-3 minutes will reduce the levels.  Flush each faucet individually before using the water for drinking or cooking.  Avoid cooking with drinking water from hot water taps, because hot water dissolves copper more readily than cold water does.

For public water supply systems, the U.S. EPA established the National Primary Drinking Water Standards for lead and copper on June 7, 1991. If the EPA action level of 1,300 ug/l for copper is exceeded, the water supplier has to test to see if  the corrosivity of the water is contributing to an increase in the copper levels. They are required to implement optimum corrosion control measures to reduce the corrosivity of the water to acceptable levels. If you have questions regarding copper monitoring, contact your water utility.

For private wells, copper can be reduced through acid neutralization of the water system if corrosive water is causing the elevated levels. If the copper is naturally occurring, installation of reverse osmosis and distillation are also effective options. You may also wish to consider water treatment with a neutralizing filter.

If you think you have copper in your drinking water, contact one of our specialists to discuss your water testing and treatment options.