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The Danger of Too Much Copper in Water

If you have an older home or one with corroding pipes (particularly those made from copper), you could be ingesting dangerous amounts of copper in water without knowing it.

Public water systems must use different water treatment methods in an attempt to provide consumers with safe and clean drinking water.

Contaminants can still include toxic substances, heavy metals, and synthetic chemicals that are introduced after the water is treated.

Any of these contaminants can cause mild to severe health conditions if left in the water.

In the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates drinking water and contaminants through the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Copper is one of the contaminants included in these regulations that should be strictly monitored to avoid water consumption that may be dangerous.

Copper cookware can contaminate food

What is Copper?

The element copper (Cu) is a soft and ductile metal that has a high malleability.

It is very conductive to heat and electricity.

The color of copper with high purity is pinkish-orange.

It occurs naturally in various rocks, soil, water, and living organisms.

Applications of Copper

Copper is a great building material for numerous metal alloys.

In the form of metal alloys, it is used in several fields including:

  • anti-biofouling
  • antimicrobial
  • architecture
  • electric motors
  • electronics
  • folk medicine
  • speculative investing
  • wires and cables

How Copper Gets into Tap Water

It is a fact that copper can and often does get mixed in public water systems and elevated levels of copper in drinking water are a common source of copper poisoning.

Here are ways the level of copper can contaminate your drinking water:

Copper Pipes

Many plumbing systems use copper pipes in the service lines or the home. This means that the entire plumbing system can be a major source of contamination.

However, the copper particles from the pipes do not mix into the water in all cases. In most cases, the pipes slowly erode over time and then introduce copper particles to your drinking water.

According to studies, acidic water erodes pipes faster than water with higher pH levels as does hot water.

Natural Copper Deposits

Another main source of contamination in your water is the erosion of natural mineral deposits containing copper near reservoirs and groundwater.

Pollution

Some metal alloys will erode and leach copper into tap water sources.

These products are thrown in landfills or leak from processing plants that use various copper compounds.

Cookware

Uncoated copper cookware can contaminate food while cooking.

Water Bottles

Unlike pipes that may cause unwanted contamination in your water source, a copper water bottle is designed specifically to mix copper with drinking water.

There are places like India in which people have copperware as the primary choice for food preparation as well as for storing holy water.

The main reason for this is that there are health benefits of mixing more copper compounds into drinking water and the diet.

Copper can leach when heated

Is Copper Water Safe to Drink?

Drinking water with trace amounts of copper is generally safe as long as it is below the minimum level.

Many online resources provide the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for copper.

What is the Safe Level of Copper in Drinking Water?

According to the U.S. EPA regulations, the maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for copper in drinking water is 1.3 mg/L or ppm.

Water with MCL readings for levels of copper beyond 1.3 mg/L is no longer considered safe to drink.

More information can be found in the Copper and Lead Levels Regulations by the EPA.

Benefits of Copper in Drinking Water

Regulated copper intake from foods and water can promote good health. Common benefits of copper in the body include:

  • Boosts weight loss – Helps metabolism and burns fat.
  • Boosts thyroid – Cures thyroid dysfunction and hormonal imbalance.
  • Fights infection – Considered a natural antibiotic by killing harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Cholera bacillus.
  • Helps heal wounds – Copper can boost skin regeneration aside from being antibacterial and antimicrobial.
  • Increases brain function – As the brain functions through electrical impulses, the conductive property of copper can stimulate brain function.
  • Increases hemoglobin count – Promotes the breakdown of food particles that supports hemoglobin reproduction. The body can effectively absorb iron due to this element.
  • Prevents cancer – Known as an excellent source of natural antioxidants.
  • Promotes heart health – Maintains effective heart function minimizing plaque deposits in the blood vessels.
  • Regulates hypertension – Helps minimize the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood.
  • Slows aging – As it boosts skin regeneration, it prevents skin aging and is an integral component of beauty products.
  • Soothes joints – Minimizes joint pains.
  • Strengthens bones – Helps prevent osteoporosis.

Can Copper in Your Water Make You Sick?

Copper toxicity is a health risk that can occur when humans are exposed to high levels.

There are several potential health effects due to elevated levels of copper exposure.

Can copper in drinking water make you sick?

The following are the adverse health effects and symptoms due to high levels of copper according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Visit the CDC site for more information.

Acute Effects

  • coma
  • gastrointestinal distress and stomach cramps
  • hematemesis or vomiting blood
  • hemolytic anemia
  • jaundice
  • hypotension
  • melena
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

Chronic Effects

Higher levels of toxicity can lead to:

  • brain damage
  • heart failure
  • kidney damage
  • liver damage and liver disease
  • Wilson’s disease
  • death

How to Test for Copper in Water

By just visual inspection, even a low level of dissolved copper contamination in drinking water can be observed through blue-green stains on pipelines, plumbing fixtures, showers, toilets, basins, and sinks.

Although the low level of copper concentrations does not change the taste of the water, a high amount of copper can produce a bitter, metallic taste in drinking water.

However, if you want to know the accurate copper levels in your drinking water, you need to bring water samples to a licensed testing laboratory.

You can also measure copper levels using home water testing kits. For these, you will dip a testing strip in your water sample and compare the color of the strip with the color chart to determine the copper levels in your drinking water.

It is important to test private wells for copper since a private well fed by groundwater will not be regulated like a municipal water supply.

How to Reduce Exposure to Copper in Your Body

Hot water dissolves copper in the plumbing system and brass fixtures more than cold water and can increase the copper levels in drinking water.

Therefore, it is better to draw water from a cold pipeline if it will be used for drinking or cooking. This is an important practice when it comes to making baby formula for young children.

Cooking or boiling tap water does not decrease or remove copper.

Also, try to:

  1. Avoid cooking using contaminated water
  2. Avoid drinking contaminated water
  3. Avoid using corroded or rusted copper pans and other copper utensils
  4. Run cold water for 15 seconds before using water from the faucet especially if you are using copper pipes.
  5. Install appropriate water filters to remove copper

How to Remove Copper from Drinking Water

Copper in water can be dangerous

Although carbon filters are considered effective in removing low levels of excess copper from the water, many water experts and health officials recommend a reverse osmosis (RO filtration) system as it effectively removes 97-98% of copper from your water source.

A point-of-use RO system installed in the kitchen provides a dedicated filtered water faucet for drinking and cooking.

Ion exchange filters are another option to remove copper or reduce copper levels from drinking water.

Distillation is highly effective although inefficient.

When considering water treatment options, look for products approved by the Water Quality Association (WQA) so you know the water filter can effectively remove copper.

Of course, bottled water is an alternative to any tap water, but be sure the water in bottles is also safe and free of contamination.

What’s in Your Water?

Always be aware of the potential dangers to your health from seemingly safe sources.

Older homes are at a heightened risk for corrosion, but any home could have leaks or other plumbing issues that allow copper into drinking water.

If you notice symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and dizziness – talk with your doctor right away about whether you should get tested for copper in your body.

Have your water tested regularly and consider filtration systems as a great way to remove any dangerous chemicals from your water.