Well Water Testing Analysis and Contamination in MA and NH – Copper in water

The third post in our series highlighting some of the contaminants that can be found in water wells.   Northeast Water Wells is available to collect samples and test your well water for contaminants anytime.

If you have a private well, regular water quality testing is very important.  Northeast Water Wells recommends testing your well at least every two years.   Many contaminants cannot be identified by taste or odor, making it difficult for homeowners to know if the water quality of their well has changed.

What is copper?

Copper is a reddish metal that occurs naturally in rock, soil, plants, animals, water, and sediment.   Since copper is easily shaped or molded, it is commonly used to make coins, electrical wiring, and household plumbing materials.  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 of copper in our diet is necessary for good health.  However, some forms of copper or excess amounts can also cause health problems.

How does copper get into drinking water?

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 waste water 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.

Why is Copper regulated?

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or may cause health problems.  These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.   The MCLG for copper has been set at 1.3 parts per million (ppm) because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health problems described below.

Since copper contamination generally occurs from corrosion of household copper pipes, it cannot be directly detected or removed by the water system. Instead, EPA is requiring water systems to control the corrosiveness of their water if the level of copper at home taps exceeds an Action Level.   The Action Level for copper has also been set at 1.3 ppm because EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to control this contaminant should it occur in drinking water at their customers home taps.

What are the health effects of excess copper in drinking water?

Copper is an essential nutrient, required by the body in very small amounts.   However, the EPA has found copper to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the Action Level.   Short periods of exposure can cause gastrointestinal disturbance, including nausea and vomiting.   Use of water that exceeds the Action Level over many years could cause liver or kidney damage.   People with Wilson’s Disease (an inherited disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in your liver, brain and other vital organs) may be more sensitive than others to the effect of copper contamination and should contact their health care provider.

How do I remove copper from my drinking water?

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 treatments will not remove copper.

If water tests indicate copper is present in drinking water, the first course of action is to try to identify the source. If possible and cost-effective, eliminate the source. If the source is the water system piping, this is generally not practical.

If the source of copper is the in-home plumbing system, flushing the water system before using the water for drinking or cooking is a practical option. Flushing the system means anytime the water from a particular faucet has not been used for several hours (approximately six or more), it should be run until it becomes as cold as it will get. Flush each faucet individually before using the water for drinking or cooking. Water run from the tap during the flushing can be used for non-consumption purposes such as watering plants, washing dishes or clothing or cleaning. Avoid cooking with or consuming water from hot water taps as hot water dissolves copper more readily than cold.

If flushing the water system does not reduce copper levels to an acceptable level or is not an alternative of choice, consider an alternative drinking water source such as bottled water or water treatment. If the water is corrosive because of low pH (acidic), a neutralizing filter can be used to raise the pH of the water. This will reduce or eliminate corrosion problems.

Reverse osmosis and distillation treatment can be used to remove copper from drinking water. Typically, copper removal by reverse osmosis or distillation is used to treat water at one faucet.

Northeast Water Wells offers a variety of testing packages to take care of all of your water needs.   Call today to set up a time for us to collect a sample of your water.  All of our testing is done through a state certified analytical lab.

If you live in Massachusetts you can view the guidelines for Well Water Testing here

If you live in New Hampshire you can view the guidelines for Well Water Testing here

Article written by Karen Provencher, Northeast Water Wells