HAE

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The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment is aware that the community has many questions about copper in drinking water. If you have additional questions, please submit them here. 

FAQs

  1. Unlike lead or mercury, copper is an essential mineral in the body that people primarily get from food. The average human diet provides approximately 1,000 - 1,400 mcg/day. Copper metal is often used in plumbing, appliances, musical instruments, and jewelry.

  2. 63.5–158.9 mcg/dL is considered to be the normal range, according to the National Institutes of Health.

  3. Any drinking water levels sampled above the EPA’s copper action level of 1.3 mg/L should be reduced. Drinking water above this level increases the risk of experiencing health effects such as upset stomach, nausea, and possibly vomiting. However, many factors determine if someone will actually experience health effects or not. Factors include what you’re exposed to in your environment, how you’re exposed, how much, how long, and also how often you are exposed. Not all people have the same risk. Age, gender, genetics, lifestyle, and other factors also play a role in how exposure to a substance impacts health. 

    After you stop drinking the water, the copper levels in your body will be reduced through excretion. It is important to note that the body is generally good at regulating copper levels.  In cases of excess copper in the diet, the absorption of copper will drop to as low as 12% of dietary intake.  In diets deficient in copper the absorption can be over 75% of the dietary intake.

    Copper toxicity is rare in healthy individuals. People with Wilson’s Disease, Indian childhood cirrhosis, and idiopathic copper toxicosis are extra sensitive to copper. Their bodies are not able to get rid of extra copper easily.

     

  4. Based on an initial review of the available data on the school's drinking water, the copper levels in the drinking water are below where we would expect severe or long-term health problems to occur in most children or adults who drank the water.

    Healthy children without a genetic disorder of copper metabolism or a diet unusually high in copper and weighing around 100 pounds, would have to drink .63 L of water per day for five days per week for four months straight at the maximum level of 5.3 ppm to reach the lowest observed adverse effect level, when minor reversible symptoms like stomach ache could occur. 

    Some people who drink water containing copper in excess of the action level over many years could suffer liver or kidney damage. For symptoms associated with severe toxicity such as liver or kidney damage a 100-pound healthy person, without a genetic disorder of copper metabolism or a diet unusually high in copper, would need to drink roughly 9 L of water per day for five days per week for four months straight at the maximum level of 5.3 ppm to reach the lowest observed adverse effect level. 

     

  5. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea caused by drinking water with levels of copper above the EPA action level should resolve within a day or two by not drinking the water. Copper toxicity is very rare, however, the Health Department recommends that anytime you have concerns about your child’s health that you visit a medical provider and discuss those concerns. Serious negative health effects related to potential exposure to high levels of copper can be diagnosed and treated by a healthcare provider.

    Routine testing of students from WMHS or Rice is not recommended at this time. If you are concerned and feel your child should be screened, contact your medical provider. Before any testing is done, a consultation with Colorado's medical toxicologists should be conducted. They can be reached at (303) 389-1867.

  6. It is generally uncommon to have abnormal levels of copper in the body. When a person has an abnormal level of copper in their body, as diagnosed by a medical provider, it is not a condition that is reported to public health. Therefore, the Health Department does not have data on the number of people diagnosed as having abnormal levels of copper in Larimer County.  The Larimer County Department of Health and Environment has not received any reports of copper toxicity. 

  7. It is generally uncommon to have abnormal levels of copper in the body. Gastrointestinal symptoms caused by drinking water with levels of copper above the EPA action level should resolve by not drinking the water. For rare cases of severe toxicity, a medical provider will create a treatment plan that might include zinc supplementation and the use of chelating agents. Those with Wilson’s disease, Indian childhood cirrhosis, and idiopathic copper toxicosis may be more susceptible to high levels of copper.

  8. Healthcare providers and community members can submit questions to the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment. 

    Health care providers and community members can contact Colorado's poison control medical toxicology program at MedToxServices@rmpds.org, (303) 389-1867.

    National Institutes of Health Fact Sheet

     

Larimer County Department of Health and Environment

For media inquiries or questions about this page, please contact:
Kori Wilford, MPH
Manager, Office of Communications and Technology
healthcommunications@larimer.org
970-222-2847