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Copper in Drinking Water: Health Benefits and Risks Explained

TypeContaminantMax. Contaminant Level Goal (ppm)Max. Contaminant Level (ppm)
Required Treatment Technique
Potential Health Effects from Long-Term Exposure Above the MCL (unless specified as short-term)Sources of Contaminant in Drinking WaterConsumer Treatment MethodOfficial Sources
Inorganic ChemicalsCopper1.3Treatment Technique on Corrosiveness of Water
Action Level=1.3ppm
Short term exposure: Gastrointestinal distress
Long term exposure: Liver or kidney damage
People with Wilson’s Disease should consult their personal doctor if the amount of copper in their water exceeds the action level
Corrosion of household plumbing systems; erosion of natural depositspH Adjustment, Ion Exchange, Reverse OsmosisCDC, NSF, EPA
National Primary Drinking Water Regulations List of Contaminants

Copper, an essential nutrient, can be found naturally in various sources, including drinking water. The presence of copper in drinking water can result from the corrosion of pipes in a home or distribution system, as well as from natural deposits in groundwater. While a certain amount of copper is necessary for bodily functions such as maintaining healthy bones and connective tissues, excess copper may lead to health issues.

Drinking water that contains copper can contribute to an individual’s daily copper intake, with studies showing that it can add 4 to 45 percent more copper to a person’s diet compared to food sources alone. This is why it is crucial to be aware of copper levels in your drinking water and take necessary precautions. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established regulations to control lead and copper in drinking water, aiming to minimize potential health risks associated with exposure to these metals.

Understanding the effects of copper in drinking water is essential for maintaining good health. It is important for individuals to monitor the quality of their drinking water and take appropriate measures to ensure that the copper levels are within safe limits. By doing so, one can safeguard themselves and their families from the potential adverse effects of elevated copper levels in drinking water.

Copper in Drinking Water

Copper is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust, groundwater, and surface water. It is an essential nutrient required by the human body for various functions. However, high levels of copper in drinking water can cause health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the amount of copper in public water systems through the Lead and Copper Rule, which sets a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for copper at 1.3 mg per liter.

One of the primary sources of copper in drinking water is corrosion of pipes and plumbing fixtures in water distribution systems. When water is acidic or contains high levels of dissolved oxygen, it can corrode copper pipes, releasing copper ions into the water. Groundwater with a low pH can also dissolve copper from pipes, resulting in increased copper levels in drinking water.

Exposure to high levels of copper in drinking water can cause a variety of health issues. Acute ingestion of excess copper can lead to gastrointestinal distress, while chronic ingestion may result in liver toxicity in sensitive populations. According to the US-EPA, the MCLG of 1.3 mg per liter for copper in drinking water aims to protect individuals from these adverse effects.

In addition to the EPA’s regulations, the World Health Organization (WHO) also offers guidance on copper levels in drinking water. It is essential for water utilities and homeowners to monitor and manage copper levels in their drinking water systems, as maintaining water quality is critical for public health.

To help mitigate the risks associated with copper corrosion, water utilities may adjust the pH levels in water and implement other water treatment methods. Homeowners can also take steps to reduce their exposure to high levels of copper in drinking water, such as replacing old plumbing fixtures and using certified filters to remove excess copper.

In summary, copper is an essential nutrient but can cause health issues when present in high levels in drinking water. Proper monitoring and management of copper levels by water utilities and homeowners are crucial for ensuring the safety and quality of drinking water.

How to Test for Copper in Drinking Water

Testing for copper in drinking water is vital to ensure its safety and maintain an individual’s health. There are a couple of methods commonly used to determine the presence and concentration of copper in water sources.

One way to test for copper is by using home testing kits available online or at home improvement stores. These kits are convenient and provide quick results. However, they may not be as accurate as professional tests performed by laboratories. To ensure accuracy, it’s recommended to send a water sample to a certified laboratory for analysis. Laboratories can identify both the presence and concentration of copper in the water sample.

Water testing is particularly important for public water systems, as copper can be introduced into the water supply through the distribution system, including pipes and faucets made from copper. The action level for copper in drinking water is 1.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L). When the concentration of copper exceeds the action level, it can cause negative effects on human health, such as gastrointestinal issues and long-term liver or kidney damage.

To collect a water sample for testing, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a faucet that is used frequently, such as the kitchen sink or bathroom sink.
  2. Allow the water to sit undisturbed for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, to ensure it has had contact with the pipes and fixtures.
  3. Open the faucet and let the water run for about 30 seconds to a minute to flush out any standing water.
  4. Collect the water sample in a clean, sterilized container provided by the lab or testing kit.
  5. Seal the container and send it to the laboratory following their instructions, or follow the steps in the home testing kit.

Regularly testing your water can help identify any issues related to copper contamination early on. If your water contains high levels of copper, it can cause staining on sinks, tubs, and other fixtures, as well as create a metallic taste. It’s essential to address any copper-related problems promptly to protect your health and the integrity of your home’s plumbing system.

How to Remove Copper from Drinking Water

Copper in drinking water can cause negative health effects and impact the taste of the water. To protect yourself and your family from these effects, it is essential to remove copper from the water using proper purification methods. This section will describe three effective methods for copper removal: pH adjustment, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis.

pH Adjustment

The pH level of water plays a significant role in the presence of copper. Changing the pH level can create an environment where copper becomes less soluble, and therefore easier to remove. Acid neutralizer systems can be used to adjust the pH level of your water and effectively remove copper. By increasing the pH level, you can achieve water that is less corrosive and contains lower amounts of copper.

Ion Exchange

Another method for removing copper from drinking water is ion exchange. Ion exchange filters utilize resin beads to replace positively charged copper ions with other, less harmful ions, such as sodium or hydrogen. This process effectively removes copper from the water, making it safer for consumption. Ion exchange filters are easy to install and maintain, which makes them a popular choice for water purification.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is an advanced water filtration method that is highly effective in removing copper and other contaminants from drinking water. This process uses a semipermeable membrane to separate water molecules from impurities, including copper. The water is forced through the membrane, which only allows pure water to pass through, leaving copper and other contaminants behind. Reverse osmosis systems are known for their effectiveness and ability to produce high-quality water, making them a popular choice for many households.

How Does Copper Get into Drinking Water

Copper can find its way into drinking water through various sources, but one of the most common methods is from the corrosion of copper plumbing materials. When water flows through copper pipes, it can cause the metal to dissolve and subsequently increase the concentration of copper in the water.

Environmental factors also contribute to the presence of copper in drinking water. For instance, groundwater can become contaminated with copper due to natural mineral deposits in the earth. This could lead to dissolved copper entering the water supply. Furthermore, copper-containing pesticides, fungicides, and industrial waste can seep into groundwater and contaminate the water sources.

In addition to pipes, distribution systems, such as plumbing joints and fittings, can contribute to copper exposure in drinking water. These components, made of copper or copper alloys, have the potential to corrode and release copper particles into the water. Aging water infrastructure and outdated plumbing materials can exacerbate the issue, causing higher concentrations of copper in drinking water.

Water chemistry plays a significant role in copper corrosion. Factors such as low pH levels, high water temperature, and the presence of dissolved solids can increase the rate of corrosion in copper pipes, joints, and fittings. As a result, these variables should be monitored and controlled to maintain lower levels of copper in drinking water.

In summary, copper can enter drinking water through various sources, mainly from corrosion of plumbing materials, groundwater contamination, and distribution systems with copper components. Factors such as water chemistry, age of the plumbing infrastructure, and environmental influences also play a critical role in the presence of copper in drinking water.

Effects of Copper on the Human Body

Copper is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in various bodily functions such as energy production, cholesterol maintenance, and protein synthesis. It is also crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system and central nervous function as a trace element. The body cannot produce copper, so it must be obtained through diet or dietary supplements.

Inadequate copper intake can lead to a deficiency, which may result in anemia, weakened immune function, and other health issues. Conditions like Menkes disease and Wilson’s disease can also cause copper deficiency or excessive accumulation in the body respectively. Symptoms of copper deficiency can include hypothermia, neutropenia, diarrhea, cardiac hypertrophy, and bone fragility as reported by the NCBI.

However, excessive copper consumption is also harmful. Copper toxicity can occur due to long-term exposure to high levels of copper in drinking water or contaminated food sources. Symptoms of copper toxicity include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and a metallic taste in the mouth. In severe cases, copper toxicity can cause liver damage and even death if left untreated, according to the CDC.

Heavy metals, including copper, can have both beneficial and detrimental health effects depending on their concentration and form. While copper is an essential mineral necessary for maintaining good health, exposure to excessive amounts can lead to adverse health outcomes.


Copper is an essential trace element, but excessive levels of copper in drinking water can lead to adverse health effects. Acute ingestion of excess copper has been associated with gastrointestinal disturbances, while chronic ingestion can lead to liver toxicity in sensitive populations.

Proper monitoring and regulation of copper levels in drinking water are crucial to ensure public health and safety. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of 1.3 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for copper in drinking water to protect against these adverse health effects.

It is essential for water suppliers, consumers, and regulatory agencies to stay informed about the potential health risks associated with copper contamination in drinking water and take appropriate preventive measures. This includes monitoring water quality, implementing effective treatment processes to reduce copper levels when necessary, and promoting awareness among the general public about the importance of maintaining safe drinking water.

In conclusion, while copper is a necessary trace element for human health, excessive amounts in drinking water can cause significant health issues. By following established guidelines, monitoring water sources, and implementing preventative measures, society can continue to benefit from the properties of copper while minimizing the risks associated with its consumption in drinking water.

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