Copper water supply pipe corrosion & leak © Daniel FriedmanCopper Contamination in Drinking Water
Corrosive water & copper pipe health hazards

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Aggressive, corrosive, low pH water - acidic water can cause high levels of copper in the drinking water supply:

This article discusses the health effects of dissolved copper in drinking water and the relation between aggressive or corrosive water and high levels of copper. We include recommended limits for copper in drinking water.

This article series describes effects of low pH, acidic or corrosive water on building piping, leaks, dissolved copper, health hazards, and the plumbing system in general. We describe how to detect corrosive or aggressive water and what should be done about it.

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Copper Contamination in Drinking Water, Health Effects & Limits

pH scale for common materials  - water is responsible for health effects of increased lead, copper or other contaminants in drinking water and corrosive water in building plumbing & heating systems is also responsible for costly leak damage.

Health and aesthetic impacts of copper corrosion on drinking water

Traditional research has focused on the visible effects of corrosion--failures, leaks, and financial debits--and often overlooked the more hidden health and aesthetic aspects.

Clearly, corrosion of copper pipe can lead to levels of copper in the drinking water that exceed health guidelines and cause bitter or metallic tasting water.

Because water will continue to be conveyed to consumers worldwide through metal pipes, the water industry has to consider both the effects of water quality on corrosion and the effects of corrosion on water quality.

Integrating four key factors -- chemical/biological causes, economics, health and aesthetics -- is critical for managing the distribution system to produce safe water that consumers will use with confidence.

As technological developments improve copper pipes to minimize scaling and corrosion, it is essential to consider the health and aesthetic effects on an equal plane with chemical/biological causes and economics to produce water that is acceptable for public consumption.

- [15] "Health and aesthetic impacts of copper corrosion on drinking water", Dietrich AM, Glindemann D, Pizarro F, Gidi V, Olivares M, Araya M, Camper A, Duncan S, Dwyer S, Whelton AJ, Younos T, Subramanian S, Burlingame GA, Khiari D, Edwards M., Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0246, USA., Water Sci Technol. 2004

Recommended Maximum Limits for Copper in Drinking Water

EPA's list of limits on contaminants in water ( is set in MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level), MCLG (Maximum Contaminant Level Goal) or mg/L (milligrams per liter) (mg/L = ppm) or parts per million - two ways of describing the same concentration

For copper in drinking water the U.S. EPA recommends both a MCLG and an "action level" of 1/3 mg/L for copper in drinking water, citing short term gastrointestinal distress (short term exposure) or liver or kidney damage (long term exposure).

The EPA also warns " People with Wilson's Disease should consult their personal doctor if the amount of copper in their water exceeds the action level"

Test the level of copper in your water - how to construct a "worst case" test

It would be instructive to test your water's copper content to see if it's unusually high. Not only would that tell us if acidic well water is corroding the pipe interior, you might find that the levels of copper are high enough to merit action for water safety / potability.

Making a "worst case" (most critical or "safest") measurement for copper or any other contaminant that might be found in drinking water due to dissolving the contaminant out of the water piping and supply system equipment can be done following the DF approach.

We want to collect a sample of water that is most likely to represent the highest concentration likely to occur in household water that someone might drink.

To construct the "worst plausible case" scenario we collect a water sample after water has been sitting in the pipes for some time period. A longer wait period (days, weeks, months) might represent a house that has sat unoccupied for some time. But in my opinion I'd collect water that has sat overnight as a more likely and thus more plausible "worst case" scenario.

If all of the house plumbing is copper, you would, on "the morning after", go to a plumbing fixture most distant from the incoming water supply, pump, and tank, open a cold (test 1) water faucet and run enough water to flush out the faucet and any plastic fixture risers, so that we're sure we've got water that was in the copper piping overnight.

Then collect the sample.

Watch out: at WATER TESTS for CONTAMINANTS we discuss testing well water quality - what is "in" the well water that may make it unsafe or unpalatable to drink.

Water that may be too high in mineral content, clogging pipes and water heaters

or water that is too acidic or corrosive, causing leaks in copper piping or that causes green water or stains on plumbing fixtures & laundry

Article Series Contents


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