Copper (Cu) is a naturally occurring metal that can be found in rock, soil, plants, animals and groundwater. It’s commonly used to make electrical wiring and plumbing materials including pipes and faucets.
Although required in small quantities by the human body for proper functioning, as you will see in this article, high levels of copper can have adverse health effects.
Therefore, copper levels in drinking water should be monitored, especially if you’re sourcing your drinking water from a private well.
If you’re worried about your copper intake, find out just how much copper can your drinking water contain, what are the side effects of too much copper and what can you do to remove it.
How Does Copper Get into Your Drinking Water?
You may be inclined to believe that since this metal is present in nature, copper may end up in your drinking water directly from groundwater reservoirs.
While groundwater does contain copper, it’s usually in low levels. A much bigger source of exposure to high levels of copper is the corrosion of copper pipes, especially in areas with acidic water.
Copper can get into the environment by way of manufacturing processes and industrial pollution, mining, or farming. Homeowners that source their water from private wells located in areas exposed to these industrial and agricultural processes are more likely to be exposed.
Copper compounds may also be added to lakes and reservoirs to control algae growth.
How Much Copper is Too Much?
The allowed maximum level of copper in water is set at 1.3 mg/l. Detection of copper in water requires chemical testing, although at 2 – 5 mg/l levels copper can be tasted in water.
When it’s at high levels, you may notice that your drinking water acquires a metallic taste. When this happens, you should get your water tested to see what exactly is causing the metallic taste.
Your water may taste like metal when its pH is low or if other metal contaminants are also present in your tap water.
It’s undeniable that trace amounts of copper are required for our health and copper deficiency can be a problem, although it’s rare. However, high concentrations of copper can cause serious toxic effects.
Therefore, testing for copper in drinking water in at-risk areas or households is important to prevent adverse health effects and apply adequate water treatment solutions.
Health Effects of Copper
Trace amounts of copper are essential for our health. In fact, copper has a series of health benefits:
- Plays a role in maintaining nerve cells and the immune system;
- Plays a role in making red blood cells;
- Plays a role in energy production;
- Helps the body absorb collagen.
Although copper deficiency is rare, it does exist, and it can cause cardiovascular problems.
While all people who ingest copper in high concentrations can experience negative health effects, children below the age of one and the elderly are more susceptible to its toxic effects.
Too much copper affects the liver and kidneys, causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps. If water analysis reveals that the copper levels in your drinking water are high, it’s important to remove it from your water to prevent adverse health effects.
How to Remove Copper from Drinking Water?
Two of the most common water disinfection methods — boiling water and chlorination — are unfortunately inefficient against copper.
In fact, boiling water that’s high in copper will only further increase its concentration as water evaporates, leaving the metal behind.
Luckily, there are other ways to address copper contamination, ways that are available for residential use. The following filtration methods can remove copper from drinking water:
1. Reverse Osmosis Filtration
Reverse osmosis will remove 97-98% of copper from water along with numerous other contaminants.
Currently, reverse osmosis filtration systems are deemed to offer a complex filtration, targeting a multitude of contaminants that other residential filters may not be so well equipped to address.
If you’re looking for an affordable, yet complex RO water filter, we recommend the Osmio Grey Line 7-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filter, which offers a 7-stage filtration that removes 1000s of tap water contaminants.
2. Activated Carbon
Activated carbon is known to adsorb copper from water, thus, reducing its levels. Although an affordable alternative to reverse osmosis, activated carbon is less efficient than reverse osmosis.
If you’re looking for an activated carbon filter with a high contaminant removal rate, we recommend the Osmio 4 Stage Water Purification System.
Combining ceramic filtration with activated carbon, this 4-stage point-of-use system removes bacteria, heavy metals, chlorine, fluoride and sediments.
3. Ion Exchange
An ion exchange system uses acid resin in combination with sodium to remove copper from water.
Distillation systems works by removing dissolved solids from water. While distillation can remove copper from water, it requires electricity and it’s a slower process than the other methods we’ve mentioned.
Until you can install a water treatment system or if copper in your drinking water comes from the corrosion of your plumbing system, here are a few recommendations to reduce your copper intake from tap water:
- Don’t use hot water for cooking as hot water dissolves copper more readily than cold water;
- Whenever your faucet hasn’t been in use for 6 hours, flush the system by allowing the tap to run at least 15 seconds before using the water.
If you’re using water from a private well, you can neutralise acidic water to prevent corrosion of copper plumbing.
To do this, you can install a point-of-entry acid neutralising tank that contains calcite, which can change water pH bringing it to a neutral 7 that no longer corrodes pipes.
If you have access to municipal water, copper levels in your water should be within the admissible limits. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to test your water and see if everything is order, especially if you have copper plumbing.
If you source your water from a private source, you should regularly check copper levels and test your water for other contamination issues as well to make sure that the water treatment you use is adequate.