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Published on Aug 11, 2016
Copper is an element and metal that occurs naturally in the environment. It has been used by humans for thousands of years and today, copper, along copper alloys and compounds, can be found in everything from jewelry, instruments (brass instruments) and coins to building materials (roofs, pipes, plumbing fixtures), electronics, wiring and motors to name just a few applications. Copper is also an essential element in plants and animals, but exposure to high levels of copper can cause health concerns.
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR) has developed a fact sheet with information about health issues related to copper. The agency provides the following information: • People may be exposed to copper from breathing air, drinking water, eating foods or having skin contact with copper, particulates attached to copper or copper-containing compounds. • Drinking water may have high levels of copper if a house or building has copper pipes and acidic water. • Lakes and rivers that have been treated with copper compounds to control algae, or that receive cooling water from power plants, can have high levels of copper. Soils can also contain high levels of copper, especially if they are near copper smelting plants. • People may be exposed to copper by ingesting copper-containing fungicides or if they live near or work in a copper mine, where copper is processed into bronze or brass, or are involved with grinding metals containing copper. The ATSDR also reports that absorbing small amounts of copper every day is essential for good health, but high levels of copper can be harmful. Breathing high levels of copper can cause irritation of the nose and throat. Ingesting high levels of copper can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Very-high doses of copper can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, and can even cause death. These are just a few things to know about occupational and environmental exposure to copper. To learn more about this or other health and safety, occupational, environmental or air quality issues, please visit the websites shown below.