Why does copper contamination cause a risk to community health? And how can it be tackled?

The human body needs small quantities of copper to function. But as well as being a nutrient, copper can also be harmful if consumed in large quantities…

The effects of drinking too much copper include vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, liver damage, kidney disease, eye irritation and blue or green discolouration of the skin and hair.

For people with Wilson’s Disease – a genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in vital organs – excess copper in drinking water poses a particular risk to health.

How does copper enter drinking water?  

Low levels of copper can be found naturally in ground water. However, higher quantities of copper can enter drinking water through the corrosion of copper used in water distribution and plumbing systems. Copper is often used in pipes, valves and fittings, in both households and in public water systems, such as those found in schools.

Acidic water can leach copper from piping and if water has been left standing in copper pipes, the metal can accumulate and subsequently be consumed.

Blue/green staining and deposits can be a sign that acidic water is leaching copper from water pipes and a bitter, metallic taste to drinking water is often associated with copper contamination.

The Lead and Copper Rule

First promulgated in 1991, the United Stated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Lead and Copper rule was designed to regulate the control of lead and copper in drinking water.

The rule states that if copper levels exceed an action level of 1.3 ppm in more than 10 per cent of consumer taps sampled, additional action must be taken. This action can include water quality parameter (WQP) monitoring, corrosion control treatment (CCT), source water monitoring/treatment, public education, and lead service line replacement (LSLR).

So how can copper contamination in drinking water be tackled?

Palintest’s patented single use copper sensor, which can be used in our Kemio™ product range, can allow water utilities organisations to easily carry out testing for copper in-situ at consumers’ taps. This helps municipal authorities to quickly identify any corroded copper pipe systems which may be putting public health at risk, and helps them to comply with the US EPA’s Lead and Copper rule.

The new sensors are compatible with Palintest’s portable Kemio™ Heavy Metals and Kemio™ Multi solutions, and give accurate results even with low concentrations of copper. The testing procedures don’t require any specialist training and can be performed on-site within three minutes.

Using the copper sensor, Kemio™ can detect copper in water at levels from 100 to 2000 μg/L, and can test for copper in water that is at a temperature from 5°C to 35°C.

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