Copper in Drinking Water

What is copper?

Copper is a chemical element. It is a semi-precious metal that is relatively soft and, therefore, easy to shape. Copper has excellent conductivity, which allows it to be used in many different ways, for example, in electronics. The actual colour of the metal is light red. After a few years, copper oxidises to the point that it is covered with a characteristic green patina.

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How does copper get into drinking water?

In the United Kingdom, copper pipes were increasingly installed in drinking water installations in the 1970s. These are considered practical and harmless. However, corrosion can occur in the pipes depending on the water quality. Therefore, they should only be installed in regions where drinking water quality allows it. The pipes constantly release copper into the drinking water. After some time, however, a protective layer forms inside the copper pipes, permanently preventing this undesirable behaviour. In new buildings and buildings with newly installed copper pipes, the release of the metal poses a potential danger.

What are the consequences of copper in drinking water?

However, copper is a trace element that the human body needs only in tiny doses. If the body absorbs too much copper, the signs are headaches, diarrhoea, dizziness and vomiting. The symptoms usually appear relatively shortly after consuming water containing copper. However, copper poisoning can have far worse consequences and manifest in liver cirrhosis. Like lead, it is crucial to protect pregnant women and babies. This is because they are much more at risk due to an increased copper intake. For this reason, care should also be taken when preparing baby food to ensure the water is not contaminated with copper.

Who is responsible?

The limit value for copper in drinking water is 2 milligrams/litre, according to the United Kingdom Drinking Water Ordinance. Although the waterworks supply excellent quality water, they may not guarantee that it will come out of the user’s tap without exceeding the limit. This is ultimately the responsibility of the homeowner. It is worth testing one’s drinking water if copper contamination is suspected.

Copper in drinking water: What to do?

Suppose your drinking water exceeds the limit value for copper. In that case, you should only use the water as food once the problem has been remedied. Since copper is a metal, boiling water will not solve the problem. 

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