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Copper and Drinking Water from Private Wells
Copper is a metal that occurs naturally in rock, soil, plants, animals, and water. Since copper is easily shaped or molded, it is commonly used to make electrical wiring, and household plumbing materials. Copper may be combined with other metals to make brass and bronze pipes and faucets. Copper compounds are also used as agricultural pesticides and to control algae in lakes and reservoirs. All living organisms including humans need copper to survive; therefore, a trace amount of copper in our diet is necessary for good health. However, some forms of copper or excess amounts can also cause health problems.
For more information about copper illnesses and treatment, please visit CDC-ATSDR's copper page.
The level of copper in surface and groundwater is generally very low. High levels of copper may get into the environment through mining, farming, manufacturing operations, and municipal or industrial wastewater releases into rivers and lakes. Copper can get into drinking water either by directly contaminating well water or through corrosion of copper pipes if your water is acidic. Corrosion of pipes is by far the greatest cause for concern.
If you suspect a problem and your drinking water comes from a private well, you may contact your state certification officer for a list of laboratories in your area that will perform tests on drinking water for a fee.
Heating or boiling your water will not remove copper. Because some of the water evaporates during the boiling process, the copper concentrations can actually increase slightly as the water is boiled. Additionally, chlorine (bleach) disinfection will not remove copper.
If the copper in your drinking water is not from the groundwater but from your plumbing, flushing the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking is a practical option. Any time a faucet has not been used for several hours (approximately 6 or more), you can flush the system by running the water for at least 15 seconds first thing in the morning before drinking or using it. Flush each faucet individually before using the water for drinking or cooking. Water flushed from the tap can be used for watering plants, washing dishes or clothing, or cleaning. Avoid cooking with or drinking water from hot water taps, because hot water dissolves copper more readily than cold water does.
You may also wish to consider water treatment methods such as reverse osmosis, ultra-filtration, distillation, or ion exchange. Typically these methods are used to treat water at only one faucet. Contact your local health department for recommended procedures. If you want to know more about these and other treatment options, please contact NSF International, an organization that focuses on public health and safety through standards development, product certification, education, and risk management. Remember to have your well water tested regularly, at least once a year, to make sure the problem is controlled.