This is a fact sheet about 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 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 which do or
may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on
possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level
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
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 provide
How much Copper is produced and released to the environment?
Copper may occur in drinking water either by contamination of the source
water used by the water system, or by corrosion of copper plumbing.
Corrosion of plumbing is by far the greatest cause for concern. Copper
is rarely found in source water, but copper mining and smelting
operations and municipal incineration may be sources of contamination.
From 1987 to 1993, according to the Toxics Release Inventory
copper compound releases to land and water totaled nearly 450 million
lbs., of which nearly all was to land. These releases were primarily
from copper smelting industries. The largest releases occurred in Utah.
The largest direct releases to water occurred in Tennessee.
What happens to Copper when it is released to the environment?
All water is corrosive toward copper to some degree, even water termed
noncorrosive or water treated to make it less corrosive. Corrosivity
toward copper is greatest in very acidic water. Many of the other
factors that affect the corrosivity of water toward lead can also be
expected to affect the corrosion of copper.
How will Copper be detected in and removed from my drinking
The regulation for copper became effective in 1992. Between 1993 and 1995,
EPA required your water supplier to collect water samples from household
taps twice a year and analyze them to find out if copper is present
above 1.3 ppm in more than 10 percent of all homes tested. If it is
present above this level, the system must continue to monitor this
contaminant twice a year.
If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above the
Action level, your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount
of copper so that it is consistently below that level. The following
treatment methods have been approved by EPA for controlling copper:
How will I know if Copper is in my drinking water?
If the water system fails to comply with any EPA or state treatment
requirements, the system must notify the public via newspapers, radio,
TV and other means. Additional actions, such as providing alternative
drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks to
This is a factsheet about 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).
Drinking Water Standards:
|Mclg: 1.3 ppm (parts per million)
Mcl: 1.3 ppm
Copper Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):
|Top Ten States*|
|Primary copper smelting
|Other nonferrous smelt.
|Blast furnaces, steel
|Copper rolling, drawing
|Ind. organic chems
|Prepared feeds, misc.
|Ind. inorganic chems
Note: This fact sheet is part of a larger publication
adapted from U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water
* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater
than a certain amount - usually 1000 to 10,000 lbs.