Copper is an essential nutrient for the human body and is found in some foods. It is also a metal commonly used in home plumbing systems and can get into drinking water. However, too much copper in the body can cause health effects.
Copper works with iron to make red blood cells in the body. However, drinking water with high amounts of copper can cause stomachaches, vomiting or diarrhea.
Very young children are sensitive to copper and long-term exposure can be harmful to their liver. For this reason, it is important not to use water with too much copper when preparing baby formula.
Water containing copper can also leave blue-green stains on plumbing fixtures or have an unpleasant metallic taste. Staining generally begins at 1.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter). Staining doesn’t necessarily mean the water’s copper level is too high for drinking, but you should test for copper if there is blue-green staining.
Copper piping and fittings are commonly used in home plumbing systems. When well water is acidic, copper from the home’s pipes and fittings dissolve into the drinking water. Water from shallow springs and dug wells is more likely to be acidic. In rare instances, high copper levels in well water are caused by pollution from industry or metal salvage.
The Health Department recommends testing your private water source for copper every five years.
Levels of copper in drinking water are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Vermont. The drinking water standard for copper is 1.3 mg/L (milligrams per liter), a level that is enough for the body to make red blood cells, but will prevent health effects.
Due to the COVID-19 response, the Vermont Department of Health Laboratory has suspended drinking water testing. You can order an inorganic chemical test kit from an alternate certified drinking water lab.
The Health Department recommends that you also test your water for lead when copper results are elevated because older plumbing solder and fixtures can contain lead. Learn more about lead in drinking water
If your final result for copper is more than (>) 1.3 mg/L, the level is over the health standard and treatment is recommended.
Copper levels can be lowered or removed from drinking water with a few different methods and treatments. When possible, replace copper piping and fittings with plastic plumbing approved for drinking water systems. Re-test for copper after any treatment system is installed to make sure levels are below the drinking water standard.
Flushing out water that has been sitting in pipes is one simple way to remove high copper levels from plumbing. Test for the highest level of copper by collecting a sample before flushing the plumbing. To flush, let the cold water run until it is as cold as it can get. This means the water is flowing directly from the well or the town water main. This flush should be done if the water has been sitting in the pipes for more than six hours, which is usually first thing in the morning or after the workday. Test the water after flushing to show that flushing was successful in lowering the copper level.
This system uses a synthetic membrane that allows water to go through but leaves copper behind. The membrane is continually rinsed. This system is typically installed under a kitchen sink (point-of-use or POU), but can also be an installed point-of-entry system. Install a system with a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF/ANSI) Standard 58 Certification. Search for an NSF/ANSI-certified reverse osmosis treatment system
Countertop (plug-in) Distillation Units
These units boil water and then recondense the steam. The copper is left behind during this process, along with hardness and other minerals. These units can produce several gallons of copper-free water per day.
Neutralizers can be added to the water to make it less acidic as it enters the home piping. This “neutralized” water will be less likely to dissolve copper. Talk with a water treatment professional about this option.
Vermont Wastewater and Potable Water Revolving Loan Fund
This program, also known as the On-Site Loan Program, is available to certain Vermont residents for the repair or replacement of failed water supply and on-site wastewater systems. The On-Site Loan Program is funded and administered by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation with loan underwriting and servicing provided by the Opportunities Credit Union in Winooski. Your drinking water supply has to be a failed system and you must be living in the residence on a year-round basis to be eligible. The family income cannot exceed 200% of the state median household income. For more information about eligibility and how to apply, call the On-Site Loan Program at 802-461-6051.
The NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont
The NeighborWorks Alliance is made up of five local organizations offering full affordable housing services for income-eligible individuals. You may qualify for help from this program if you need money to install a water treatment system, drill a well, or repair or replace your septic system. For more information on eligibility, contact the local NeighborWorks Group in your region.
Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants
This program offers loans and grants to existing homeowners for well construction, repair and sealing. It's administered by the Rural Development office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is for low-income families who live in a rural area or a community with a population of 25,000 or less. The family income cannot exceed 50% of the median county income. Individuals who are 62 years of age or older may qualify for a grant or a combination of a loan and a grant. Younger applicants are eligible only for loans.
Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, Winooski and parts of Colchester are ineligible for the program. Even if your property is in an eligible area, your eligibility is still subject to income limits. For more information or to find out if your property is in an eligible area, call the USDA Rural Development Office at 802-828-6022.