What You Need to Know About Copper in Drinking Water

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.

Health concerns: Is copper harmful to my health?

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.

Source: How does copper get into my water?

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.

Testing: How do I know if copper is in my water?

Testing is the only way to know if copper is in your drinking water.

The Health Department recommends testing your well or spring for copper every five years. You can order an inorganic chemical test (Kit C) from the Health Department Laboratory, or you can use another certified drinking water lab to test for inorganic chemicals.

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

Test results: Is my result a problem?

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. If the copper level in your water is more than (>) 1.3 mg/L, the Health Department recommends treating your water.

Need help understanding your drinking water test results? Find out how to read your results

Treatment options: Can I remove or lower the levels of copper in my water?

Copper levels can be lowered or removed from drinking water by using one of the methods or treatment systems listed below. When possible, replace copper piping and fittings with plastic plumbing approved for drinking water systems.

Re-test your drinking water for copper after any treatment system is installed to make sure levels are below the drinking water standard.

Financial assistance: Is there funding available to help me pay for water system or treatment?

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.

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