Is Copper In Drinking Water Dangerous?

Copper is a metal, and it occurs naturally on the Earth. It is considered a mineral found in soil and rocks. You can find it in the low levels of the natural bodies of water.

Copper contains an essential element. Indeed, your body needs a little amount of copper to stay healthy. However, having too much is harmful.

It is used to make various products such as plumbing systems. As such, it can get into your drinking water as it passes through the plumbing system inside your home.  Where copper pipes corrode into the drinking water, it can soon affect the safety and quality of the water.

In this article, we will discuss how does copper get into the drinking water. Also, we will discuss if it is dangerous to drink water with copper. Finally, we will talk about ways on how to prevent copper in the water. 

Background Information

In all-natural water sources, low levels of copper can be found. However, if the drinking water has been left standing in household copper pipes for long periods, it can be the main cause of high copper levels.

Once again, copper can get into the drinking water via the plumbing system whenever the pipes are corrosive. Corrosive water can dissolve copper that is found in plumbing parts.

Corrosion refers to the deterioration of the substances or properties because of the reaction with its environment. The metal found in the water pipes dissolves into the water because of various causes. This will lead to pipe failure, corrosion of appliances, water heaters, and fixtures. In plumbing systems, corrosion is because of chemical and physical reactions between the pipe material and water.

Some of the signs that you have corrosive water includes pinhole leak, blue-green stains on the plumbing fixtures, and pitting in your pipes. If you have found these signs in your water, the presence of lead can also be a problem. When there is a lot of dissolved copper in the water, it can make it taste or smell bad. Sometimes, it can also give it a blue color.

Common Causes of Copper Corrosion Problems

Some of the causes of the copper corrosion problems include low pH level, and it refers to the acid water, which is less than 7.0. Another cause can be a high pH level of the water, and it is alkaline water, which is greater than 8.5.

Furthermore, high levels of dissolved oxygen and high levels of salt dissolved in the water or total dissolved solids can be the cause of corrosion problems.

Moreover, corrosion-causing bacteria such as iron bacteria and sulfate can be the cause of corrosion—electrochemical causes like the improper grounding of electrical appliances to the copper piping. Or when lightning strikes to the utility poles of the grounding wires can be a cause of corrosion in the water.

The high velocity of the water that is relative to the size of piping, causing hydraulic wear on the piping, can be the cause of corrosion. Sometimes, this can be found in circulating hot water systems with the use of the pumps.

On the other hand, sediment, sand, or other grit in the water can also lead to hydraulic wear and tear on the piping.

Finally, improper installation of copper piping leads to copper corrosion. The failure to properly de-burr or ream the ends of the pipe can be the cause as well as the use of excessive acid flux when one solder the pipes can be the cause too.

Copper in Minnesota’s Water

Although, in general, the pH level of the groundwater in Minnesota is high enough to prevent water from dissolving copper, other factors contribute to corrosion. The public water system monitors how corrosive water reduces the risk of copper and lead to get into the drinking water.

In 1994, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found out that 954 wells they tested for copper in Minnesota, none had high copper levels, which are beyond the standard set by the EPA.

Health Effects

The normal adult will require two to three milligrams of copper for each day. Around 90% of your dietary needs for copper is provided by food. Drinking water can provide less than 10% of your daily copper intake.

The federal government must not increase the maximum copper level in drinking water. If there are higher levels of copper in the water, it can cause liver poisoning. This is true for infants and children with genetic disorders.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must establish the concentration of the contaminants in the public drinking water supplies, according to the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA set the level for copper in the drinking water that is 1.3 mg per liter of drinking water. This is done to prevent the short-term gastrointestinal problems of the consumers. However, there are states like Delaware and Nebraska, who have experienced difficulty in maintaining the copper levels within this goal.

In the recent population studies, they have reported that there are no adverse health effects whenever one ingests a high level of copper in their bodies. As such, questions have been raised with regard to the validity of the science on which the EPA has based its standard for drinking water. Some people believe that the goal is low. Meanwhile, some believe that their family might get sick from copper levels, which is below the current standard set by the EPA.

Because of these concerns, the Congress has asked the Research Council to conduct an independent review of the technical and scientific basis of EPA’s standard for copper in drinking water.

The committee said that too much copper could lead to various health problems. If one has ingested excessive doses, it can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. Long-term exposure can cause copper poisoning. This is true for people whose bodies have a problem regulating copper because of illness or genetic disorders. One example can be Wilson’s disease.

Meanwhile, severe cases of copper exposure can cause liver poisoning, anemia, and kidney failure.

Wilson’s disease is caused by a defect in the gene that is essential in eliminating the excess copper level in the body. In the past years, people with Wilson’s disease were considered as a small portion of the population. Experts believe that one way to protect them is to limit their copper intake. But new evidence suggests that the brothers and sister of people with Wilson’s disease can be at risk too. This is true even if they don’t have the disease themselves. As such, carriers, or those who have at least one defective gene, can also be at risk.

In particular, children who carry the gene are at risk since their water consumption is greater than an adult in proportion to their size. Wilson’s disease is found in only 1 out of 40,000 people in America. However, the committee believes that 1% of the total population may carry the gene for the disease. There is no available test today to identify the individuals at risk with the disease.

How to Tell if the Copper Levels in the Drinking Water is Elevated

If the copper level in water is low, it will usually leave a green or blue stain in the hand basins, pipes, taps, toilets, or showers. Remember that it will not leave a metallic or bitter taste. This kind of water is still safe to drink.

Meanwhile, a higher level of copper will leave an unpleasant or bitter taste in the water. This kind of water is not safe to drink. You must contact your drinking water provider or let a professional test it.

Getting Tested for Copper

You can be tested for copper. Your doctor, through urine and blood tests, can do testing copper levels in your body. Moreover, hair analysis can be done too. However, there is no scientific basis yet for this method. An accurate diagnosis cannot be made for this approach too. Hair testing will not provide an accurate measure of copper poisoning.

Reducing Exposure to Copper

One cannot completely eliminate copper intake. However, you can avoid foods that are naturally high in fiber to reduce copper levels in the body. But before changing your diet, make sure that you talk to your doctor. This is because there are foods that are high in copper, and they are also important components of a healthy diet.

How to Protect Yourself and your Family from Copper in the Water

Indeed, if the copper level in the water is more than 1,300 micrograms per liter, then it can be a health risk for everyone. Thus, here are some easy steps to try to help keep your drinking water safe:

First, make sure to identify the source and severity of the problem. Inspect the piping system and have an accurate analysis of the drinking water.

Make sure that you let the water run for at least 30 to 60 seconds before using it. This is true if the water faucet has not been turned on in over six hours.

Second, you can use cold water to make food, drinking, or making food formulas. According to studies, hot water will release more copper from pipes versus cold water.

Verify if there are unnecessary electrical appliances or wiring which are connected to the piping. Check if the piping system s properly grounded to earth ground. Check just to make sure that there is an electrical continuity throughout the piping system. For example, plastic water filters, plastic water softener, or the sections of the plastic piper must not separate the copper piping electrically. Make sure that you install jumper cables around these items.

Next, make sure that you test your water. You can check for the hardness, pH level, alkalinity, temperature, and the total dissolved solids of the water. Calculate for the Langelier Saturation Index just to check if the water is aggressive or corrosive. If you are still concerned about your water quality and safety, make sure that you arrange a laboratory test about your tap water. Indeed, testing your water is important, especially if you have an infant or a member of the family with Wilson’s disease.

The water testing must be done by an accredited laboratory. You can contact the authorities to get a sample container plus instructions on how to submit a sample. You can also ask your county if they have any programs in testing your water quality.

If the tests show that the copper levels in your water are above 1,300 micrograms per liter, even after you let the water run for 30 to 60 seconds, then you can consider treating your water.

Berkey Water Filter Systems

The Berkey water filter systems are gravity water filters, which are available in seven varieties, models, and sizes. They all use the same filters that are proven to remove copper in the drinking water. Apart from copper, it can also remove fluoride, pathogenic bacteria, and viruses. You can check out the product page of Berkey here and invest a product for your family.

For Private Wells

Copper is not found in the groundwater from your well. Copper can enter the drinking water whenever it travels through the plumbing system. If your plumbing system consists of parts that are made of copper, then you can try some steps on how to keep the copper level regulated.

For Public Water Systems

EPA has set that it must be 1,300 micrograms per liter only for public water systems where people receive childcare, work, live, and go to school. These systems have to take initiatives to reduce the amount of copper in the water. This is true if more than 10% of the water samples they have from sampling sites and homes are served by the system and have copper levels over 1,300 micrograms for each liter.

You can find out the level of copper found in a community water system as you read the system’s Water Quality Report. This is also known as the Consumer Confidence Report. You can ask the community water system for this copy, or you can be able to find it online too.

Take note that your home may have higher levels of copper in the drinking water versus the homes where the public water system has been tested. As such, make sure that you follow the steps above to help keep your drinking water safe.

For non-community water systems that serve schools, factories, childcare facilities, and offices can contact the non-community systems. This can help you determine the level of copper as detected in the system. Meanwhile, resorts, restaurants, and campgrounds are not required to test their water for copper.

Conclusion

In sum, copper is used in various products, especially in water pipes. Through time, the water can corrode with the pipes, which make your drinking water at risk of contamination.

Meanwhile, low levels of copper have no health effects on the body. In fact, it is needed to have good health. However, when copper exceeds 1,300 milligrams per liter as required by EPA, it can cause adverse effects to the body. Further studies are needed to be done with different age groups.

Meanwhile, there are ways you can do to minimize copper in the drinking water. You can flush the water, have it tested, or invest in a gravity filter like the Berkey Water Filtration system. Overall, you must prioritize the health of your family for peace of mind.


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