Copper

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Copper is a chemical element found thoughout the environment in rocks, soil, air, plants, and animals. Its symbol is Cu. Copper is widely used in household plumbing materials and can enter drinking water through corrosion of household pipes. It has been found in sewage sludge and coal waste.[1][2]. In the environment, copper typically attaches to particles made of organic matter, clay, soil, or sand.[3]

Low levels of copper are necessary for maintaining good health, but high levels can be toxic. The U.S. EPA limits copper in drinking water to 1.3 mg/L or 1.3 parts per million.[4] In sewage sludge applied to land, the U.S. EPA limits copper to a concentration of 4,300 parts per million.[5] In the Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, a 2009 test of 84 samples of sewage sludge from around the U.S., the EPA found copper in every sample in concentrations ranging from 115 to 2,580 parts per million.[6]

Uses

As noted above, copper is commonly used in household plumbing materials. It is also combined with other metals to create brass and bronze. U.S. pennies made before 1982 are made with copper, but U.S. pennies made after 1982 are only coated in copper. Copper compounds are also used in water treatment and as a preservative for wood, leather, and fabric.[7]

Copper is used agriculturally as a fungicide, often on oranges, grapes, and lemons.[8] It is also used in the form of copper triethanolamine complex, an algaecide.[9] Sometimes lakes and rivers are treated with copper compounds such as copper triethanolamine complex to control algae.[10]

Toxicity

According to the U.S. EPA, short term exposure to unsafe levels of copper may result in "gastrointestinal distress," whereas long-term exposure may result in liver or kidney damage.[11] The Centers for Disease Control add that breathing high levels of copper can result in irritation of the nose and throat and ingesting high levels of copper can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea. At very high levels, copper can damage one's kidneys or liver and even cause death."[12]

Articles and resources

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References

  1. "Heavy Metals Naturally Present in Coal & Coal Sludge" Sludge Safety Project, accessed November 2009
  2. Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Report, US EPA website, Accessed August 17, 2010.
  3. Centers for Disease Control, ToxFAQs for Copper, Accessed August 4, 2010
  4. U.S. EPA, Copper - Drinking Water Contaminants, Accessed August 4, 2010
  5. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40, Chapter 1, Subchapter O, PART 503—Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge, Subpart B—Land Application, Pollutant Limits
  6. Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Report, US EPA website, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  7. Centers for Disease Control, ToxFAQs for Copper, Accessed August 4, 2010
  8. Pesticide Action Network, Pesticide Database: Copper, Accessed August 4, 2010
  9. Pesticide Action Network, Pesticide Database: Copper triethanolamine complex, Accessed August 4, 2010
  10. Centers for Disease Control, ToxFAQs for Copper, Accessed August 4, 2010
  11. U.S. EPA, Copper - Drinking Water Contaminants, Accessed August 4, 2010
  12. Centers for Disease Control, ToxFAQs for Copper, Accessed August 4, 2010

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