Copper is a metal that occurs naturally in the environment. Pure copper has a reddish-orange color, i.e., like the older pennies, and is soft and malleable, i.e., easily molded and a great conductor of electricity. Historically copper has been used in our homes as electrical wiring and household piping. Copper may be combined with other metals like zinc to make brass and tin to make bronze piping and fixtures. Copper is used to control algal growth in lakes and reservoirs; it can also kill your tropical fish. Copper does rust; it forms a beautiful, soft green stain (verdigris or the mineral, malachite) that can be seen on older copper roofs, the Statue of Liberty, and your leaking copper water pipes. Copper is a micronutrient that is needed for good human health.
Note: Bronze (a copper-tin alloy) piping may also include: arsenic, phosphorus, aluminum, manganese, and silicon. Brass, a copper-zinc alloy, may also contain similar contaminants.
Copper is one of those elements that is necessary in small amounts (it is a micronutrient) but which can be a problem at levels which are too high. Low levels of copper may be associated with iron deficiency, however, elevated levels, i.e., > 2 mg/L to 5 mg/L, of copper may create aesthetic problems with drinking water. The aesthetic problems can include blue-green staining of fixtures, porcelain, and laundry, taste issues, and discolored or blue-green colored water. Elevated levels of copper have been associated with chemical and microbiological induced corrosion (MIC) in water distribution systems and household piping, and premature failure of water system components. Elevated levels of copper may be associated with elevated levels of lead, zinc, chromium, and other trace elements in the household or distribution systems piping and plated fixtures. In addition to the piping within the system and your home, copper can be introduced to a drinking water source through the treatment process for city water users and as a contaminant associated with mining, farming, manufacturing operations, storm-water runoff, and municipal or industrial wastewater discharges.
Long-term exposure has been associated with liver and kidney damage and short-term exposure is associated with gastrointestinal issues.
The drinking water EPA Action Level is 1.3 mg/L, but the Federal Food and Drug Administration Primary Standard for Bottled Water is 1.0 mg/L. It is regulated as a Secondary Drinking Water Standard, because of aesthetic issues. At a Secondary Standard level of 1.0 mg/L, Copper can have a bitter to metallic taste and cause blue-green staining of piping, sinks, porcelain, basins, and of the water itself. Elevated levels of copper in the water could mean there is a problem with the corrosiveness of your drinking water and suggest that other metals like lead, chromium, and zinc may be present.
Unlike many contaminants in drinking water, this element is potentially detectable before it creates a potential health hazard, but you must know the warning signs of a problem. If the water has a metallic or bitter taste, you see blue-green or green coatings on your fixtures, or a light blue-green color to the water in the tub, this is the early signs of a problem with the water. If you have pin-hole leaks or major leaks in piping, failures of fixtures, lots of green staining of surfaces and fixtures, you may have a health related problem.
Your best course of action is to get your water tested and compile as much information as possible about your water supply source, well construction, surrounding land-use, and local geology. If you do have a copper problem, there are water treatment technologies available now that can reduce or even remove copper from your drinking water or prevent the copper from even entering the water. With respect to water testing, you should do a first flush test of the water for copper, lead, zinc, and microbiological contaminants, and then a flushed test and check the water for microbiological contaminants and a comprehensive water quality test that includes trace metals, general water quality, and an assessment of the corrosion potential of your drinking water.
Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.
The symptoms/sources for copper in the water include:
Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.
If your water shows symptoms of a problem, we would recommend these in-home screening tests.
<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L4-methyl-tertiary">Note: Concentrations < 40 ppb</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-alkalinity">Note: For Low Hardness / Alkalinity/ Low pH</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-toluene">Note: If the concentration is less than 0.8 mg/L</div>
Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.
A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.
Elevated copper and other corrosion by-products are a common problem with city water systems. These problems may be related to either chemical corrosion and/or microbiologically induced corrosion. Prior to conducting certified testing, it would be advisable to conduct the initial informational screening testing and review the information so a formal sampling plan can be developed or we can assist with summarizing the information which so you can submit to your local authority. If you have a private water source, the primary suggestion would be to have our team review your data and situation and make a formal recommendation and action plan.