Well Water Contaminants FAQ: Copper

If you get your drinking water from a water well, water-borne contamination can be a health issue. Copper is a contaminant that can be eliminated.

Have you ever noticed the beautiful blue-green color of a deep mountain lake? In the right setting on a hike, it's absolutely stunning. When we turn on our faucet, however, we expect to see crystal clear water. If yours has the color of that mountain lake, the likely culprit is copper, and it's a cause for concern.

Here are some frequently asked questions, and answers about copper and what to do when it's present in your well water.

What Is Copper?

Copper is a metal that is found naturally in rock, soil, and sediment. While a small amount of copper in the diet is essential for all living organisms and ensures good health, elevated copper levels can be problematic and even dangerous. When present in drinking water it can be a sign of low pH. All water is slightly corrosive towards copper, but other factors can affect the corrosive properties of water, so diagnostic testing is necessary for determining the cause of any copper present in your water. 

How Does Copper Get Into Your Water?

When water stands in your plumbing for an extended length of time, copper can leach from your pipes. The reaction between the water and your pipes can cause that tell-tale blue-green tint. Other signs copper may be present include a slight metallic taste or blue stains on porcelain fixtures. 

If your plumbing is new (less than a year old) some copper is perfectly normal, and it should decrease over time. However, it is possible and likely that your water pH is low and slightly corrosive which can cause copper to leach into your water supply from your pipes. Acidic water is the usual cause and flushing your pipes before drinking or using water can remove the taste, but the corrosion will still be an issue.

What Are The Health Effects of Water-Borne Copper?

While copper is an essential nutrient necessary for all living organisms, too much can have adverse effects on health. Symptoms of copper toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and nausea. Long-term exposure (more than two weeks) can lead to serious health issues including liver and kidney damage. Infants and adults with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to copper toxicity.

Should I Test My Well Water For Copper?

If you see blue-green staining, your water has a blueish tint when coming from the tap, or tastes slightly metallic you may have copper present. Even at low levels, you may see a slight blue tint or your water may have a slightly metallic test. At low concentrations, copper will not harm you but the only way to determine levels is through testing. It's smart to have your water tested at the first signs of contamination. Contact a state-certified water professional or lab to ensure proper testing.

The EPA reports that newer homes are more at risk and levels tend to decrease over time. Your pipes will form a protective coating as long as your water is not too acidic and this coating protects your pipes and prevents leaching. The process of building this protective layer can take up to five years and during that time your water is in direct contact with copper pipes. As a result, copper may be present in your water. If testing shows elevated levels of copper, you should also test for lead as these two metals are often found together.

What Can I Do If Copper Is Present?

Treatment can be very simple. If you suspect copper is present, simply run your water for 30 seconds before drinking or cooking, especially if you have not used and water for six hours or more. Use only cold water for cooking and run your tap until the water is at its coldest before filling pots. Once you've flushed your tap, consider filling extra storage containers for later use.

Point of use treatment systems and filtered pitchers are both effective at removing copper from your water, but you should have your well water professional test for pH to address any possible corrosion issues. 

There are other treatment options available. A call to the well-water professional's at Skillings & Sons can help you to understand both the dangers and your options. Remember, ensuring your water well is contaminant free is your responsibility. Annual testing is the best way to ensure the health and safety of your family and provide you with peace of mind.