Drinking Water Contaminants - Copper
This is a factsheet about Copper, a chemical that may be found in some public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is Copper and how is it used?
Copper is a heavy metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements. It is widely used in household plumbing materials.
Why is Copper being regulated?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water that do or may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.
The MCLG for copper has been set at 1.3 parts per million (ppm) because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.
Since copper contamination generally occurs from corrosion of household copper pipes, it cannot be directly detected or removed by the water system. Instead, EPA is requiring water systems to control the corrosiveness of their water if the level of copper at home taps exceeds an Action Level.
The Action Level for copper has also been set at 1.3 ppm because EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to control this contaminant should it occur in drinking water at their customers home taps.
These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.
What are the health effects?
Short- and long-term effects: Copper is an essential nutrient, required by the body in very small amounts. However, EPA has found copper to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the Action Level. Short periods of exposure can cause gastrointestinal disturbance, including nausea and vomiting. Use of water that exceeds the Action Level over many years could cause liver or kidney damage. People with Wilsons disease may be more sensitive than others to the effect of copper contamination and should consult their health care provider.
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