Copper in drinking water – invisible danger from the pipes

Copper in drinking water is one of the most underestimated sources of danger lurking in our domestic drinking water installations. However, often illnesses or complaints are not associated with copper in the water. Yet experts have already recognised that copper in drinking water can be a trigger for various diseases and ailments. Especially when infants and small children are supplied with water, there should be no copper in the drinking water at all. This is because here the substance is harmful even in small quantities if it is taken regularly over a longer period of time. But copper in tap water is also dangerous for adults.

Copper in tap water – proven to be dangerous to health

While it became a trend in the UK in the 1960s to install copper pipes in houses, the number of unexplained illnesses of people increased demonstrably. Those affected mainly suffered from complaints that could not be associated with any disease in this combination at the time. In 1987, doctors proved for the first time that the complaints were associated with copper poisoning. Due to the installed copper pipes, the patients regularly ingested copper, sometimes in very high doses, over a long period of time. Probably the worst form of copper poisoning manifests itself in the form of liver cirrhosis or liver fibrosis. In the first period after this connection was proven, this form of complaint, which is also the most severe form of copper poisoning, could be defined as the only disease triggered by copper. Over the years, however, experts collected corresponding findings that finally indicated that copper in drinking water can cause a much broader range of symptoms.

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Copper in tap water – the symptoms

The symptoms and complaints that can be triggered by copper in drinking water vary widely. They range from diarrhoea and vomiting to intestinal colic as well as headaches and dizziness. However, these symptoms are not specific, which means that a connection to copper in drinking water is rarely established directly. Often, the complaints occur directly after the consumption of water containing copper. However, it is equally common to observe long-term symptoms such as diarrhoea in babies whose food is regularly prepared with drinking water containing copper.

However, organic diseases triggered by copper in drinking water are also possible. Damage to the liver, kidneys or immune system is often caused by copper in drinking water. Impairment of the blood as well as problems with the skin, such as erythema, are also possible.

Mild copper poisoning may be cured quickly if further ingestion is prevented. More severe poisoning, however, can lead to permanent consequential damage.

Special danger for babies – copper in the water

Babies are particularly at risk from copper in drinking water. If babies are not breastfed, they consume far more water than adults in direct comparison and in relation to their body weight. Pregnant women must also completely avoid tap water that contains copper. This is because prenatally acquired liver and kidney problems have already been proven in newborns.

The human body needs a certain amount of copper. However, this is very small and is completely covered by the intake of solid food. Drinking tap water containing copper significantly increases this copper intake, putting health at risk.

Have water tested for copper and be safe

The Drinking Water Ordinance sets a limit value for copper. This states that copper in tap water must not exceed a limit of 2 mg per litre.

In order to determine whether copper in drinking water is a problem in one’s own household, water analyses for copper can be carried out quickly. In this way, private individuals can also have their drinking water tested for copper quickly and inexpensively and be sure that there is no danger from their tap water.

Water filters: an effective solution when limit values are exceeded

If you detect elevated heavy metal contamination after a water analysis, action should be taken as soon as possible. In this case, it is recommended to install an activated carbon block filter behind the tap. In this way, heavy metals, pesticides, microplastics and other contaminants can be sustainably filtered directly at the tapping point. 

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